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Fentanyl Used in Execution Cocktail for the First Time

Nebraska recently held its first execution in 21 years, its first by lethal injection, and a first in history to use fentanyl. In an interesting turn of events, this drug, which has been at the center of America's opioid epidemic, is now being used to execute prisoners in the very same prison which houses recovered opioid addicts.

You may have heard you get one free phone call when you're arrested. You may not have heard how much phone calls from prison can cost after that, or how much cities, counties, and telecommunications companies are making off those calls.

One fewer city, however, will be profiting from jail phone calls. New York City is making phone calls from its jails free. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law eliminate the charges, and eliminating about $5 million per year in city revenue from such calls.

It's a classic line from a classic movie. Michael Bolton (the character), worried that the group's plan of siphoning off pennies from their employer in "Office Space" is unraveling, lays out the doomsday scenario: "We get caught laundering money, we're not going to white-collar resort prison. No, no, no. We're going to federal pound-me-in-the-a** prison."

Distasteful prison rape jokes aside, the bit belies a common perception among laypeople that there are brutal prison conditions for the poor or unfortunate, and country club prisons for the rich and powerful. And revelations from Paul Manafort's "VIP" incarceration this week did little to dispel that belief.

Few people imagine prison as a pleasant place to be. Now imagine being incarcerated without your ability to hear. On top of that, try complying with court-ordered programs, advocating for your release, or even navigating the complex social structures of a prison while deaf.

The situation already sounds dire, and states have been accused of making a bad situation even worse. Legal actions in both Georgia and California claim state-run prisons have failed to provide deaf and hard-of-hearing inmates interpreters and other tools necessary to effectively communicate with fellow inmates, staff, and specialists.

Do Prison Inmates Have Meal Option Rights?

Prison inmates are not granted the same rights as free citizens. Their rights should be limited. But to what extent? Surely they have the right to practice religion, guaranteed by the First Amendment. In fact, in many prisons, the practice of religion is encouraged. But what if such practice requires dietary restrictions?

In a recent case, a New York inmate, David "DeAndre" Williams, claimed that as a devout practicing Nazarite Jew with a dairy allergy, he couldn't eat the meat, vined fruit, or dairy products in prison meals. When served these items, he tried to trade with fellow inmates, but was reprimanded since food trading violated prison rules. Williams claimed he hasn't had "three hots a day" for the last seven years, and has sued the state to get accommodating prison meals. Is this fair?

Can Pregnant Inmates Be Forced to Give Birth in Jail?

Childbirth is stressful. And it's really, really hard. Sure, the experience is also other-worldly miraculous, but between the pain and the uncertainty, pretty much every woman wants to get it over with as quickly as possible to meet that tiny baby who's been breakdancing inside her for months. But as difficult as your standard labor is, imagine giving birth in jail.

Over the years, pregnant women have been forced to give birth in jail, either because their labor progressed too rapidly, or because they were not cared for quickly enough. In a recent case, a Texas woman claims guards actually ignored her cries for help, forcing her to give birth to her son in her jail cell.

What Happens When Sentences Are Ruled Unconstitutional?

The fascinating thing about law is that it's always changing. Whether legislators create new ones or the judiciary clarifies or invalidates existing ones, what was legal yesterday might not be legal tomorrow. This is certainly true in the realm of criminal procedure and criminal justice, where prosecutors, law enforcement, defense attorneys, and civil rights activists all battle over what justice and public safety look like.

But what happens when the law changes? Does it also change for people convicted before the new law took effect? For example, of interest to the U.S. population living in prison, what happens when sentences are ruled unconstitutional?

Here's a tip: If your 'voluntary' prison work program offers two choices, either work for your toilet paper, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, or face additional criminal charges and 30 days in solitary confinement, it's not really a voluntary work program.

That's just one of the many horrific allegations contained in a lawsuit against the nation's largest private prison operator, CoreCivic, the second third lawsuit to charge the company with human trafficking filed in the past year.

A Reuters investigation into Taser use in just one Ohio jail turned up more than a dozen stun-gun videos that have families of the victims, state legislators, and even United Nations torture experts calling for criminal inquiries into the incidents. Officers at the Franklin County Jail were found to have used Tasers on 80 inmates over the course of two years, 60 percent of whom were classified by the jail as intoxicated or mentally ill.

The revelations have many questioning the limits of Taser and stun-gun use for law enforcement personnel, and whether officers accused of exceeding those limits face any punishment whatsoever.

As many have noted, the rise of the American carceral state has coincided with the demise of slavery, leading many others to note that burgeoning prison populations have replaced forcible servitude based on race. In some ways, this is framed as a positive and redemptive story, like California inmates being paid $1 an hour to fight forest fires. In other, worse ways, it looks more like work at the end of a whip, like extorted labor from inmates at private immigration detention centers.

Either way, few law enforcement officials have so nakedly admitted to wanting to retain inmates as a source of cheap labor as Louisiana Sheriff Steve Prator. In the face of the Bayou State passing a set of criminal justice reforms aimed at reducing the prison population, Sheriff Prator expressed his interest in keeping "good prisoners" incarcerated: "In addition to the bad ones, and I call these bad, in addition to them, they're releasing some good ones that we use every day to wash cars, to change oil in our cars, to cook in the kitchens, to do all that where we save money."

So which inmates should we be interested in releasing, and should the amount or value of their labor factor into that decision?