Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

Why we plastered our demands on the fence of Holloway Prison

Friday, October 11, 2019

The death of a newborn baby in HMP Bronzefield just two weeks ago reveals the violence of the prison industrial complex. An incarcerated woman was left to deliver the baby with no pain relief or medical assistance overnight. This horrific story is just one of countless examples of the criminal justice system’s structural brutality. These incidents happen in secret, out of the public eye, because so often women in prison aren’t deemed worthy of our care and protection. 

Holloway Prison has been the site of similar state violence for centuries. The prison population is overwhelmingly made up of people experiencing mental health problems, those who have experienced sexual violence, and people who have grown up in care. Sarah Reed, a 32-year-old working-class black woman with mental health support needs, died in Holloway Prison in January 2016 after a long journey of state-inflicted violence. Instead of receiving the mental health support she needed after losing her child, Sarah was subjected to abuse time and time again. The multiple instances of violence perpetrated against Sarah included an assault by an officer of the Metropolitan Police, which led to further deterioration of her mental health due to the trauma, and an attempted rape while she was later detained in a psychiatric unit under the Mental Health Act. When she died, she had been in HMP Holloway on remand for more than three months. Sarah’s story is one of many: too many to name.

When Holloway Prison first closed in 2016, many of the women inside were transferred to overcrowded facilities outside of London, further isolating them from their support networks, family and resources. The violence that took place on the site of Holloway Prison remains unhealed. Prisons do nothing to solve social problems; they are simply a management method for filtering out the ‘undesirables’ from our society. We know that they are rife with abuse, exploitation and mistreatment. We also know that once inside the prison system, chances of successful ‘rehabilitation’ for the poorest and most marginalised women is next to none. Sisters Uncut believe that nobody deserves to suffer silently as a result of state violence. We seek to expose violence, to bring it into the public eye, in order to demonstrate that the way our society functions and the way the state allocates funds and resources is fundamentally racist and sexist.

The fight to reclaim Holloway

We occupied the site of Holloway Prison in 2017, hosting a week-long community festival in the visitor centre. We wanted to demonstrate that the land could be transformed into a space of healing and safety. We demanded the use of the principles of transformative justice as an alternative to the carceral state. 

Our original demands, that the site be used for social housing and the construction of a women’s building, were initially agreed to by the council. However, these promises have been threatened by the developers’ cooperation with the police. Peabody Trust, the housing association which bought the site in March this year, is working with the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC) to finance and direct the construction of the site. Sisters Uncut asserts that this relationship poisons the potential for creating a space committed to transformative justice and addressing the harms of the criminal justice system.

Yesterday, we took action by plastering the wall around the site of Holloway Prison to reaffirm demands that the land be reclaimed for social housing and the construction of a ‘women’s building’ committed to addressing the harms and violence of the criminal justice system.

We pasted shortened versions of our demands on the walls of Holloway Prison. 

Our Demands

In full, our demands are:

1. 100% of housing on the site must be at social rent.

2. 100% of housing on the site must be fully accessible, including but not limited to wheelchair accessibility, hearing loops, translation services and gender-neutral toilets. There should be a separate budget for any accessibility requirements that may arise.

3. The housing on this site should be prioritised for formerly incarcerated people and those impacted by domestic, sexual and state violence.

4. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) should not use the money it gains from the sale of Holloway to build more prisons. Prisons are racist and expensive; they are places of suffering and state violence. 

5. Peabody should centre survivors of domestic, sexual and state violence in the decision-making and day-to-day operations of the women’s building. Survivors should be central to the creation of shared values that define the building’s purpose and operation.

6. The so-called ‘women’s building’ must:

  • be inclusive of all women (trans and cis), intersex and non-binary people.
  • be a full, dedicated building as opposed to a single space.
  • provide support (counseling, art therapy, healing, trauma-focused initiatives, amongst other things) by prison abolitionist organisations that recognise the harms perpetrated by the criminal justice system.
  • provide specialist services for marginalised groups, including survivors of colour and queer, trans, migrant and disabled survivors.
  • only house provisions that do not cooperate with the Home Office or MOJ in any capacity or deny access to individuals on the basis of immigration status.
  • provide a free childcare scheme.
  • be free at the point of use for organisations operating in the building.
  • display the artwork of survivors of state and domestic violence and provide a library, craft space, kitchen and comfortable and accessible seating. It should be a free, relaxing space for members of the local community.

We also demand that Peabody sever its financial and organizational relationship with MOPAC, and commit to constructing social housing and a women’s building guided by the above and serving the needs of the community and survivors of state, domestic and sexual violence.

While the government invests in more prisons and more policing, we know that these only increase violence; social housing and fully funded, specialised services for all survivors of domestic abuse can decrease it. There are over 14000 households on the waiting list for social housing in Islington. The Holloway site must be used to provide these services. We will fight for as long as we need to in order to ensure our demands are met.