Two Years On

Today on Budget Day,  we remember the announcement that Holloway would be closed, delivered as part of then- Chancellor George Osborne's  Autumn Spending Review, 25 November 2015. After years of rumour, of dark days, of better days, the prison was finally to be no more.

It was announced to all staff at a meeting held in the chapel; many immediately broke tears, word went out around the prison quickly: Holloway was to be closed.

Much has been written, and more not written, about the last few months and subsequent closure of the prison. In some ways it is only now beginning to feel permanent. Women, friends and families adjusting. Organisations adapting to the change.  Staff and teams moved on to Downview, Pentonville and beyond have had their own period of adjustment and challenges. Still we hear and see people connected with Holloway who speak fondly, or passionately, or angrily of the decision to close the prison.

Many people have been actively campaigning to secure the future of the site, notably  Reclaim Holloway,  campaigning for the land, and community supports to be put in place on the site that would mean prisons were not needed. Islington Axe the Housing Act  have had protests outside the Ministry of Justice and petitioned Sadiq Kahn to bid for the land, with over 5,500 signatures. . Community Plan for Holloway run by Centre for Crime and Justice Studies have been bringing local community groups together and consulting with local people, and with Women in Prison with the women who had been in Holloway, publishing a report. 

The closure didn't just inspire campaigns for political change, but also efforts to retain the therapeutic experience of working with women in Holloway, built over decades. In June of this year, Holloway United Therapies launched. A charity who aims to provide the high quality, well recognised long term psychotherapy that was available to women inside Holloway, to women in the community affected by the Criminal Justice System. HUT is newest of the many charities women have sent up over the decades in response to Holloway. You can read about more on those, and the inspiring women on the Heritage section of this site. 

The promises that were made in that 2015 Spending Review have not -- of course -- come to pass. Women’s safety has not been improved by moving women 20 miles plus,  from North London to Surrey.  Women are now, on average, held further away from their families across the whole country,  and a result visits have gone down for women transferred.

Tragically  between the announcement and the closure of Holloway Sarah Reed died on 11 January 2016. The inquest into her death was rightly critical of the care she received; however little attention was given to the impact of the impending closure Holloway itself.  In fact, 2016 was tragically, avoidably, the worst year on record for self inflicted deaths of women in prison in England. The Inspector of Prisons himself  made the connection between the rise of self harm and self inflicted deaths to the closure of HMP Holloway. Women in Prison and Centre for Crime & Justice Studies will be releasing a report soon on the impact on women of the closure. In a year that marked the 10th anniversary of  The Corston Report, it’s hard to feel optimistic about the Ministry of Justice and what their soon to be published strategy for women might hold. Especially as they are committed to building more prisons despite all evidence of their failure. 

Closing a prison -- closing Holloway -- was a dangerous experiment from a Ministry of Justice that has shown continued poor leadership, lack of accountability and negligent management.  Currently it is presiding over nothing short of a crisis in the prison estate. Three Justice Secretary's since the announcement not even NOMS stands, in it’s place the newly created Her Majesties Prison and Probation Service.   Despite their continued failures more money is bunged the way of CRC’s the privatisation of probation under the implementation of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’. It is nothing short of a omnishambles; provision for women in London has been particularly negatively affected. Private companies continually bailed out in ways beyond imaginable if it were the Voluntary Sector. As women's organisation are punished for opting out of onerous Payment By Results contracts that compromise their ethos and integrity. 

Holloways closure was of course linked to a plan to closure ‘Victorian Prisons in London’  which has now been abandoned.  The irony being of course the only prison they closed wasn’t Victorian, and had received it’s best inspection report.  The decision was connected to freeing up land, as part of a plan to build more housing. Then-Chancellor George Osborne also announced a £2.3bn fund would help boost the number of ‘Starter Homes’ to 200,000, “in addition to those delivered through reform of the planning system” along with the closure. None of these have been built.

Numerous letters to the Ministry of Justice to request the use of the Visitors Centre, the space that could be used well by community groups, or women’s organisations have been to no avail, and it has lain empty. Despite a comprehensively researched proposal by Prison Reform Trust.   The most use it got was Sisters Uncut successful occupation of the building.

Despite rumours that the prison was sold to overseas developers, the prison was, in fact, not open for bidding until recently. Consultations took place and Islington Council, the local planning authority, listened to what the prison meant to women, to the voluntary sector, to the community. The result of these consultations led to a generally supportive Supplementary Planning  Document, and political support from Jeremy Corbyn, Sadiq Kahn, Richard Burgon and Sian Berry backs the demands of the community for adequate housing provision, a Women’s Building and community services. However, the Ministry of Justice and the GVA (the appointed property agent) have marketed the prison -- located on public land -- as an ‘exceptional freehold development opportunity.

Two years on from the announcement of the closure of the prison, it’s time to not only look back through the prison’s heritage and history, it’s time to continue to gather people’s stories but also  now is the time to look forward.

This is why today, Holloway Prison Stories is excited to announce we will be adding a new section to our website, dedicated to supporting the understanding, vision and aims of the Women’s Building.

We are excited to be unveiling some of  the inspiring images and videos we have been working on with Reclaim Holloway, and using this space to further explore the Women’s Building.

We will be inviting submissions from people on what they want to see in a Women’s Building, how it would look, how it will feel, what needs to be there, who needs to be there, why it’s important for them that it’s at Holloway.

We have made connections with the inspiring women working on The Women’s Building in  NYC, and hope to build on the Trans-Atlantic Solidarity, to imagine and build a world beyond prison.  

We want to thank Rosa Voices from the Frontlines grant for the support in helping us work with Reclaim Holloway to bring this new section forward.  

Maureen Mansfield 

Copyright, Holloway Prison Stories. May not be used without permission.