Sisters Uncut

Taking direct action for domestic violence services.

No police in our women’s building

Monday, November 30, 2020

The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) plans to turn the Women’s centre on the Holloway Prison Site into a probation centre, instead of a place for community and transformation.

Members of Sisters Uncut have sprayed the following stencils in key areas around Islington:

MOPAC = police 

Policing =/= community healing

We want community not criminalisation

No police in our women’s building*

We want members of the local community to know about Peabody Housing Association’s relationship with policing institutions. We demand a Women’s Building that works in the interests of us all, without relying on the criminal justice system – which often creates the problems that the building will aim to rectify. We do not want a prison under another name.

MOPAC is the body that is responsible for overseeing the Metropolitan Police. They fund a range of services, including Domestic Violence services, which in turn have to prove some compliance with MOPAC’s methods and aims. MOPAC’s involvement in the Women’s Building (WB) should be considered a part of the Criminal Justice System’s move towards ‘gender responsive policing’. It is important to note how, over the last decade, domestic violence services and shelters have become more and more embedded in the state’s apparatus. Plans for a women’s building in Holloway are thus linked to government plans to expand the criminal justice system as they move towards embedding prisons and probation centres in our communities.

Further expanding the criminal justice system is not an adequate response to domestic violence; the more police are involved in instances of domestic violence, the more likely it is that survivors or other vulnerable people end up in prison, and communities will continue to be disrupted and fragmented. Police and prisons don’t keep the most systematically vulnerable survivors safe; many cannot rely on the police for fear of deportation or further brutality. The reduction in access to domestic violence services due to a decade of austerity means many do not have a safe place or safety net to fall back on and cannot escape violent situations.

Prisons and probation centres do next to nothing to address the root causes of domestic violence, evidenced by the fact that the prison population in England has more than tripled since 1950, while the number of women murdered by a current or former partner (2-3 every week) remains the same. The majority of people in women’s prisons report experiencing domestic violence at some point in their life. 

A probation centre is a criminal justice service that keeps track of the formerly incarcerated, and assists with communication with criminal courts and sentencing duties. This is yet another way that the criminal justice system cements itself in the lives of those currently and formerly imprisoned. We do not believe that embedding policing, prisons and the CJS into the lives of survivors is an effective way of combating gendered violence. In fact, these systems aid and perpetuate the very cycles of violence they claim to break. Though their stated aim may be to prevent reoffending, their true purpose is to entrench state surveillance in the lives of those who have already been negatively impacted by imprisonment, setting near impossible standards and codes of behaviour that they must adhere to. Probation centres are not spaces for transformative justice. Probation centres are not spaces of support. They continue the control and coercion of formerly incarcerated people.

Women and people of marginalised genders who have been through and live under the threat of the criminal justice system need financial, emotional and mental health support, fully funded community resources, and a space to understand their experiences of trauma and gendered violence. This is what the Women’s Build should be: a place of refuge. We need processes of transformative justice that are community-led, separate from the Criminal Justice System, that seek non-punitive approaches to rectifying harm. When we say we want community and not criminalisation, we mean we have a vision of a world without policing and prisons, where every person has their needs met and is able to access the resources needed to live a full and dignified life. We mean community services run from the ground up with no connections to courts, police and prisons.

The Criminal Justice System perpetrates violence and so it cannot be the solution. It locks survivors into a vicious cycle of poverty, precarious housing and employment, and vulnerability to further abuse. The community of Holloway were promised a space where women could come together, provide support and solidarity for one another, and heal. Instead, they have been lied to and misled by Peabody Housing Association and MOPAC. We demand more: the immediate severing of ties between Peabody Housing Association and MOPAC, as well as evidence that Peabody understands the community’s visions for the Women’s Building, and commitments to put that vision into practice.

* ‘Women’s Building’ is the language used by Islington Council. We will fight for a building and services that are available to all non-binary, gender non-conforming people and women and that the name is changed to reflect that.