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How prisons are using COVID-19 containment measures as a guise for torture

Solitary confinement is still a common feature of prisons across Canada and in its most populous province, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s…

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An inmate can be seen inside a segregation cell at the Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., in 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Newly reported data shows that torture continues in federal prison segregation units. It’s an ongoing feature of Ontario provincial jails too.

As critical criminology and policy scholars, we publish widely on issues of confinement and are active in community advocacy. We have heard about these practices from prisoners, recently released prisoners and via documents obtained through freedom-of-information requests. Despite changes to policy, lengthy segregation practices in prisons continue and have evolved amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our analysis shows that the frequency and length of isolation practices have increased during the pandemic and have received little critical oversight because they’re framed as containment measures.

Long confinement is torture

Solitary confinement that lasts longer than 15 days and/or without at least four hours out of cells and two hours of meaningful human contact per day, is defined as torture by the United Nations.

In 2019, the federal government abolished solitary confinement, and replaced it with a new practice called “structured intervention units,” or SIUs. Among the changes, SIUs are supposed to limit segregation to 15 days.

That same year, the Ontario government amended its regulations limiting segregation to 15 days and requiring an assistant deputy minister to review segregation placements.

An amendment to the province’s Correctional Services and Reintegration Act with additional changes was passed by the Liberal government in 2018, but not acclaimed by the current Conservative government.

Human rights concerns

The Ontario Human Rights Commission raised concerns about segregation in a recent report following a tour of the Toronto South Detention Centre in 2020.

The report found routine use of isolation in ways that “raise serious human rights concerns.” In April 2020, Superior Court Justice Paul Perell awarded $30 million in damages, ruling the province had been “systemically and routinely” negligent in running solitary confinement.

In August 2020, the Ontario Human Rights Commission filed a motion with the Human Rights Tribunal for an order to hold the province accountable for failing to meet its legal obligations to keep people with mental health disabilities out of segregation.

A small darkened cell with a small window, a narrow cot and a toilet.
A segregation cell at the Toronto South Detention Centre in 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Interviews with prisoners

The data we’ve collected through prisoner interviews and via freedom-of-information requests show four forms of forced isolation are being abused in ways that approach or meet the UN definition of torture.

Primary among these are lockdowns (all prisoners isolating to cells), COVID-19 quarantines (14-day intake isolation), droplet precautions (isolating to cells/ranges due to a suspected COVID-19 infection) and structured intervention/segregation (isolation in a specialized unit).

Some interviewees reported spending 28 consecutive days in forced isolation, without daily time outside of their cells. People had their isolation clocks restarted when moved from a provincial to federal institution or if someone new was moved into their cell/unit.

In the words of one interviewee:

“Going for 14 days of quarantine in provincial and then immediately 14 days in federal … was pretty rough, you know. I’ve done a lot of hole [solitary] time before, but it seems that this was even harder.”

Data shared by Ontario’s solicitor general following our freedom-of-information requests show there were 380 full and partial lockdowns in Ontario jails from January to August 2020. People were confined to cells with next to no time out for phone calls, showers or fresh air.

As of Nov. 30, 2020, there were 132 people in Ontario custody who had spent more than 60 days in segregation over the year. Of those in segregation, 30 had mental health alerts on their files.

Between July 2018 and June 2019, the Ontario Human Rights Commission reported more than 12,000 people were placed in segregation in Ontario, and 46 per cent of them had mental health issues.

Risk management

Our analysis shows that throughout the pandemic, tortuous segregation has been normalized as “risk management” in the absence of external accountability.

Risk assessment during the pandemic extends pre-existing institutional culture, including the use of 20 risk assessment tools that establish ratings such as security classifications and reintegration scores, and experiences of occupational risk among staff. Prisons are already seen as risky places by management, staff and confined people; COVID-19 has added to those perceptions.

Research suggests that solitary confinement is a prisoner management strategy used to reduce threats to institutional order and safety. The COVID-19 crisis has provided an opportunity for further repressive measures.

Risk management has meant continuously restricting prisoners rather than embracing community alternatives and discretionary release. This is despite health experts and scholars exposing the impossibility of physical distancing in prisons.

Risk communication has been heavily restricted, with controlled messages aimed at establishing a crisis narrative.

But the public and stakeholders can inform policy through critique. Prisons are sensitive to criticisms given the need to legitimize practices of control.

Dismantled oversight

In 2021, the Ontario government quietly dismantled all 10 Community Advisory Boards established in 2013 to provide independent oversight of the province’s jails. Before that, board members were able to enter local jails at any time to provide immediate community oversight and transparency.

These boards were responsible for producing annual reports and recommendations on jail conditions.

Community advocates and agencies, along with opposition parties, have called for the reinstatement of these advisory boards. As the Ontario provincial election approaches, issues of segregation and torture in the province’s jails should become a campaign issue.

A small exercise yard with cinder wall and the sun shining from above through caging.
An exercise yard for the segregation unit at Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ont., in 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Change is needed

The normalization of torturous isolation is likely to continue without adequate external oversight and accountability.

We call for the reinstatement of Ontario community advisory boards and demand the Ontario government acclaim the Correctional Services and Reintegration Act. The act aligns the definition of segregation with international standards, phasing in time limits and barring segregation for pregnant or mentally ill people.

More than 70 per cent of people in prison have not even been convicted of any crimes. We call for a return to releasing prisoners as occurred in the early days of the pandemic.


Read more: Coronavirus in prisons: How and why to release inmates in a pandemic


The use of isolation inside Ontario prisons is either close to torture or amounts to torture and can have long-term effects.

Summing up the link between isolation and suffering, one person we interviewed noted:

“Even if you are only in there for the two weeks and make bail, you’re going to be coming out with some serious issues.”

Jessica Evans receives funding from SSHRC. She is affiliated with the Toronto Prisoners' Rights Project.

Linda Mussell receives funding from SSHRC.

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CUNY Graduate Center wins National Science Foundation award to give graduate students a head start in bio-inspired nanotechnology

From photosynthesis to the collective behavior of ants, natural phenomena inspire both discovery and innovation. Now, thanks to breakthroughs in computing,…

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From photosynthesis to the collective behavior of ants, natural phenomena inspire both discovery and innovation. Now, thanks to breakthroughs in computing, engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry, and complexity science, scientists are finding new ways to mimic and adapt nature, creating nanoscale materials and devices that bring powerful, sustainable solutions that advance health care, renewable energy, and space exploration.

Credit: Shanté Booker

From photosynthesis to the collective behavior of ants, natural phenomena inspire both discovery and innovation. Now, thanks to breakthroughs in computing, engineering, molecular biology, biochemistry, and complexity science, scientists are finding new ways to mimic and adapt nature, creating nanoscale materials and devices that bring powerful, sustainable solutions that advance health care, renewable energy, and space exploration.

With a new $3 million National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Training grant, faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center and its Advanced Science Research Center (CUNY ASRC) are launching Nanoscience Connected to Life to train diverse Ph.D. students for careers that integrate aspects of life sciences with nanoscience. This comprehensive program, which is connected to Understanding the Rules of Life (one of 10 NSF “big ideas”), will provide Graduate Center students who are in Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Physics Ph.D. programs and conducting bio-nanotechnology research with funding, research training, mentorship, and professional-development internships at industry and government labs.

“In combining training in world-class, cross-disciplinary nanoscience research with an equally valuable emphasis on career engagement, this needed program will prepare CUNY’s diverse graduate students to lay the groundwork for rewarding careers in high-demand industries,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “The program’s great promise to drive innovation while expanding the participation of students from traditionally underrepresented groups in CUNY’s Ph.D. programs and diversifying the STEM fields, leverages the unparalleled strengths of the Graduate Center and of CUNY itself. We thank the NSF for its substantial investment.”

“This NSF Research Training program will strengthen the Graduate Center as a powerhouse of interdisciplinary science, particularly nanoscience and its applications,” said Robin L. Garrell, president of the Graduate Center. “Faculty at the Advanced Science Research Center and throughout our STEM doctoral and master’s programs are working across disciplines to find new ways to generate energy, diagnose and treat diseases, and address climate change. By engaging students of all backgrounds in cutting-edge, team-based research, we are preparing the next generation of scientists to lead innovation in academia and industry.” ​

“The nanoscale is the size range where biology’s functionality plays out at its most basic level,” said Professor Rein V. Ulijn, the principal investigator of the NSF grant, the founding director of the Nanoscience Initiative at the CUNY ASRC, and the Einstein Professor of Chemistry at Hunter College. “By bringing together knowledge from various disciplines, we can develop an understanding of the engineering approaches of biological systems. We can then apply this knowledge broadly to create new green technology that rivals the versatility of the structures of the living world. This is an area of much promise and growth, and now is the perfect time to significantly expand our research in it.”

The field of nanotechnology continues to grow and find applications in technologies that impact our everyday lives. Students who are trained through this program will be prepared to lead research and innovation in a variety of fields, including the growing area of green manufacture, where products such as clothing and cosmetics are increasingly bio-derived and fully biodegradable. Nanoscience also merges with the life sciences to enable the development of vaccines, medical devices, and diagnostic testing kits. The lipid nanoparticles used for delivering mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to human cells are one example of these nature-inspired nanoscale solutions.

The Nanoscience Connected to Life training program will expand research in bio-nanotechnology by providing direct funding to 25 Ph.D. students and by involving an additional 125 Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Physics students in its events and opportunities. The trainees will benefit from dissertation research mentoring by faculty from multiple disciplines, helping students gain experience in interdisciplinary and team-based research. Cross-disciplinary teams will collaborate to address urgent societal challenges related to environmental instabilities and health crises. Career development and networking activities are embedded throughout the programming, and are designed to prepare students for mentorship, leadership, and entrepreneurship in industry, startups, academia, government, and nonprofit organizations. An overarching goal is to prepare diverse students — future leaders — by creating a learning community of systems thinkers who can exchange knowledge and communicate across disciplines. 

The training program has a strong focus on diversifying STEM and will leverage its position within CUNY, the nation’s largest and most diverse urban public university system. The program aims to attract diverse students to Graduate Center science Ph.D. programs. Program faculty will work closely with admissions to recruit underrepresented minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ community from within CUNY and from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“Diversity enhances science,” said Joshua Brumberg, dean for the sciences at the Graduate Center and interim executive director of the CUNY ASRC. “By drawing more diverse students into our Ph.D. programs, we are fulfilling the mission of CUNY to serve the whole people, and we are bringing needed new perspectives and ideas into some of the most exciting areas of science and technology. We all stand to benefit from this inspired initiative.”


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China Shortens Travel Quarantine In COVID Zero Shift

China Shortens Travel Quarantine In COVID Zero Shift

China unexpectedly slashed quarantine times for international travelers, to just one…

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China Shortens Travel Quarantine In COVID Zero Shift

China unexpectedly slashed quarantine times for international travelers, to just one week, which suggests Beijing is easing COVID zero policies. The nationwide relaxation of pandemic restrictions led investors to buy Chinese stocks.

Inbound travelers will only quarantine for ten days, down from three weeks, which shows local authorities are easing draconian curbs on travel and economic activity as they worry about slumping economic growth sparked by restrictive COVID zero policies earlier this year that locked down Beijing and Shanghai for months (Shanghai finally lifted its lockdown measures on May 31). 

"This relaxation sends the signal that the economy comes first ... It is a sign of importance of the economy at this point," Li Changmin, Managing Director at Snowball Wealth in Guangzhou, told Bloomberg

At the peak of the COVID outbreak, many residents in China's largest city, Shanghai, were quarantined in their homes for two months, while international travelers were under "hard quarantines" for three weeks. The strict curbs appear to have suppressed the outbreak, but the tradeoff came at the cost of faltering economic growth. 

The announcement of the shorter quarantine period suggests a potentially more optimistic outlook for the Chinese economy. Bullish price action lifted CSI 300 Index by 1%, led by tourism-related stocks (LVMH shares rose as much as 2.5%, Richemont +3.1%, Kering +3%, Moncler +3%). 

"The reduction of travel restrictions will be positive for the luxury sector, and may boost consumer sentiment and confidence following months of lockdowns in China's biggest cities," Barclays analysts Carole Madjo wrote in a note. 

CSI 300 is up 19% from April's low, nearing bull market territory. 

Jane Foley, a strategist at Rabobank in London, commented that "this news suggests that perhaps the authorities will not be as stringent with Covid controls as has been expected." 

"The news also coincides with reports that the PBOC is pledging to keep monetary policy supportive," Foley pointed out, referring to Governor Yi Gang's latest comment. 

She said, "this suggests a potentially more optimistic outlook for the Chinese economy, which is good news generally for commodity exporters such as Australia and all of China's trading partners." 

Even though the move is the right step in the right direction, Joerg Wuttke, head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, said, "the country cannot open its borders completely due to relatively low vaccination rates ... This, in conjunction with a slow introduction of mRNA vaccines, means that China may have to maintain a restricted immigration policy beyond the summer of 2023." 

Alvin Tan, head of Asia currency strategy in Singapore for RBC Markets, also said shortening quarantine time for inbound visitors shouldn't be a gamechanger, and "there's nothing to say that it won't be raised tomorrow." 

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/28/2022 - 07:38

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Preventing the next pandemic: Learning the lessons

In the first of a three part series, Ben Hargreaves looks at what the odds are of another
The post Preventing the next pandemic: Learning the lessons appeared…

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In the first of a three part series, Ben Hargreaves looks at what the odds are of another pandemic arising in our lifetimes and what can be done to lower the risk of this happening again.

The current pandemic is still very much underway. The question is, as one study was recently entitled, whether the current phase brings the world closer to the end of the pandemic or just to the end of the first phase? What is clear is that due to vaccines and therapeutics, the critical early phase of the pandemic is over. As the article suggests, what could lie ahead is a process of learning how to live with a persistent circulation of the virus and, with this, consistent spikes of cases, likely occurring periodically and more often in the winter months.

With the current pandemic refusing to dissipate, the discussions around future pandemics become more difficult to countenance. As identified very early into the current pandemic by the WHO, there is the risk of fatigue arising over long-term global health crisis response, which becomes an issue when acknowledging that the current times we’re living through could happen again. Research has suggested that in any given year there is a 2.5 to 3.3% chance of a pandemic on the scale of COVID-19 occurring. Not only this, the expectation is that such events are becoming more likely, with estimations that the probability of outbreaks such as the current pandemic will likely grow three-fold in the next few decades.

Pharma invested

The acceptance that there will potentially be another pandemic within many people’s lifetimes underlines the importance of using the emergence of COVID-19 to better protect ourselves against the next threat. Although it’s come at a high cost, the world is now in a strong position to prepare itself, with the lessons from the current pandemic still fresh in mind.

One clear benefit is that the pharmaceutical industry has proven that it is able to develop and safely deliver vaccines in a much shorter timeframe than usual. A typical vaccine development timeline takes between five and 10 years; the vaccines approved for COVID-19 emerged much more quickly.

Though the next pandemic could prove to be a more complicated target to vaccinate against, the success of the vaccines and the financial gains that were achieved would see companies eager to engage in development. Already, the industry is seeing greater research and funding being diverted back into vaccine development, with mRNA vaccines holding particular interest. This should see a pipeline of vaccine candidates better stocked than on the emergence of COVID-19, if this can be sustained into the future.

Global governance

However, the work required to prevent the next pandemic is far broader than vaccines and therapeutics, which are essentially the last defence. In the future, the entire global health system will need to change to become more resilient, which requires many individual changes but can be broken down it smaller, logical actions that have outsized outcomes. One such action is simply coordination at the highest levels.

There were warning signs prior to COVID-19 that a pandemic could be possible, with the outbreaks of Zika and Ebola viruses, both of which have occurred intermittently for years but had attained wider notoriety after bigger outbreaks in the last decade. Despite this, coordinated efforts on the response to the current pandemic lacked cohesion – many countries adopted different methods of combatting the spread of the virus and containment. Once vaccines were on the market, countries competed against one another for access, thereby denying them to the countries without the economic firepower to match.

A recent report for the G20 group of nations, on preventing the next pandemic, concluded: “It requires establishing a global governance and financing mechanism, fitted to the scale and complexity of the challenge, besides bolstering the existing individual institutions, including the

WHO as the lead organisation. A primary one is training and hiring adequate levels of health workers.”

The report broke down four major gaps that need to be addressed, on a global and national level, to be able to respond more quickly, equitably and effectively when further pandemics occur:

  • Globally networked surveillance and research: To prevent and detect emerging infectious diseases
  • Resilient national systems: To strengthen a critical foundation for global pandemic preparedness and response
  • Supply of medical countermeasures and tools: To radically shorten the response time to a pandemic and deliver equitable global access
  • Global governance: To ensure the system is tightly coordinated, properly funded and with clear accountability for outcomes

Spending money to save money

The hiring of additional healthcare workers, the build-out of surveillance systems, support provided for R&D into infectious diseases, and the creation of a stockpile of medical countermeasures all require funds. This is a major question of the report for world leaders: Whether there is the appetite for further funding into pandemic preparation? The global economy has taken and continues to feel the financial blow of COVID-19.

However, the report calls for more public funding to be put into health in the coming years, with the authors stating that approximately 1% of GDP must be committed by low- and middle-income countries. In terms of funding for international efforts for preventing the next pandemic, the figure is estimated at $15 billion per year, sustained for the coming years. Compared to the sums spent on vaccines and therapeutics during the current pandemic, the investment is far lower and will help boost what the report calls, “a dangerously underfunded system.”

Beyond all action is a tactic for mitigating pandemics that is known as primary prevention. Fundamentally, this means going before all of the previously discussed methods to tackle the virus at the root cause.

Research has called for greater emphasis to be put on elements that prevent virus spillover, where a virus jumps species. The authors identify three areas where a difference can be made: reduced deforestation, better management of the wildlife trade and hunting, and better surveillance of zoonotic pathogens before any human is infected. The authors suggest that even a 1% reduction in risk of viral zoonotic disease emergence would make any efforts in this direction cost-effective. They end their study, stating, “Monothetic ‘magic bullets,’ including diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines, failed to control COVID-19 as it spread around the globe and exacted the largest health and economic toll of any pathogen in recent history. This makes plain that we cannot solely rely upon post-spillover strategies to prevent a similar fate in the future.”

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