I spent the last four months of seven year sentence (so three and a half years inside) when Downview shut suddenly in the autumn of 2013 and everyone was shipped out to anywhere there was a space. Prior to that I'd been at three prisons (Bronzefield, Downview and East Sutton Park). Without a doubt Holloway was THE most dysfunctional prison I'd come across; possibly the most dysfunctional in the entire female estate. It was awful in just about every aspect you could imagine:
The food was shit. On the landing I was on it was often served cold because of various issues with hot plates, trolleys etc. which did nothing to improve it. The kitchen had a fixation with root vegetables so we had nothing but swede, turnips and carrots for weeks on end. The only green vegetable you saw was the iceberg lettuce in a salad. Healthcare told me to eat lots of green vegetables. I had to explain that the kitchen simply didn't serve them and the GP looked amazed.
The accommodation was awful: there was absolutely no attempt to put people together in the dorms and shared rooms who might get on with each other, so you were generally locked into a room with people who were a nightmare to live with. I'm just amazed that Holloway doesn't have more inmate murders given the living conditions. I spent most of the time I was there in a double where the heating didn't work, which wouldn't have been an issue in the summer but between October and January it sure as hell was and no one seemed interested in fixing the problem. Rooms were far too small for two people, especially given the amount of time you were locked up in them yet there were entire wings shut despite the population crush when Downview closed, which made no sense at all and would have helped eased the problem.
Education & Occuptations
Education, jobs and activities were a joke. It took three weeks to get through induction instead of the usual three days simply because no one appeared to be in charge of a very simple procedure and getting signed up to anything was ridiculously difficult. There were insufficient activity places to accommodate the population which left about half the inmates locked in their cells on the landing for days at a time. Management made little effort to address this issue and it could have been solved relatively easily.
Other prisons operated a reasonably easy to access healthcare system which varied in quality from mediocre to relatively bad. The only way you could access a healthcare appointment was to put your application in the box outside healthcare, but that required you to be able to leave the landing to do this – and you only could do this if you were going to resettlement, education, the gym or a few of the jobs. If you were locked on the landing you had to get another inmate to put the application in for you and trust that they did. Absolutely ridiculous! Once you got an appointment you were also locked in there for the duration of the session, so if you were the first appointment of the day you were locked in there until lunchtime unable to go anywhere and you lost a morning's pay if you were lucky enough to have a job or be in education. Every other prison operated a movement system (including Bronzefield, which is of similar high security) whereby you could leave your place of work and go to appointments with a movement slip, thereby being productive and getting paid. It would have been easy enough to have a similar system at Holloway, but management simply failed to put one in place for no good reason. Claims that it would cause incidents or be a security risk were ridiculous because other prisons could manage such a system without these issues so there was no reason Holloway could not.
With just three exceptions and the education staff, prison staff were uniformly awful: rude, arrogant, uncaring, obstreperous, lazy and that's just for starters. I was lucky in that the landing I spent the most time on had the three staff members who were actually decent human beings and good at their jobs. Having spent quality time in three other establishments where the staff were generally OK, with some standouts and some truly awful specimens, it was astounding that management allowed staff to have such dire attitudes to both their jobs and the inmates in their care. Other prisons could clearly attract and retain decent staff, so it's a puzzle as to why Holloway tolerated such bad ones.
Other prisons run a pretty straightforward admin system that allow inmates to put in applications and sort out issues and get around the place. Some prisons are better than others but they run pretty much of a muchness systems. Holloway, on the other hand, had admin systems that beggared belief and simply didn't work. Add to that they were constantly tinkering with them, but completely failed to improve them.
I had a few issues with legal mail being opened in error at other prisons, but Holloway deliberately opened legal mail even when it was clearly marked as such. Often legal mail from solicitors and courts never made it to me and got diverted to my OMU file or outside probation instead, as I discovered when I left and did a full data subject access request to both HMP and probation and discovered that they held an awful lot of my legal mail which they had no right to have and had not acquired through me or by a legal means. Complaints were simply not dealt with either.
Independent Monitoring Boards
Most IMBs are really kind of useless. Holloway's was also pretty useless although they did help me access healthcare.
I've seen some pretty awful prison governors and management in my time from ineffectual (Downview) to incompetent (Bronzefield) to corrupt (East Sutton Park). It puzzles me where HMP recruits these idiots from as they aren't capable of managing a hamster properly let alone a prison full of damaged people. But Holloway's number one was THE worst I've come across. Never could make up my mind if they were just more incompetent and uncaring than usual or whether they were downright evil. But they were the last person who should ever be put in charge of a prison, the reason why so many of the staff were awful, why the systems didn't work etc. etc. etc. The buck stops at the top and the person at the top sets the tone and the policies. If a prison is rotten, look no further than the person at the top. Holloway was without a doubt THE worst prison in the female estate for so many reason. Yet none of the issues were insurmountable and could have been resolved relatively easily and with little extra cost. In other words, zero reason why things could have been improved.
Holloway needs to close because it is not fit for purpose. I doubt anyone will mourn its passing.
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