Published: 22 April, 2016
by JOE COOPER
CAMPAIGNERS are battling to keep Holloway Prison site out of the hands of private developers.
The sale of the prison presents a huge opportunity to turn a “symbol of pain and oppression into something useful”, a meeting was told on Tuesday.
Reclaim Justice Network (RJN), supported by Islington Hands off our Public Services, wants the 10-acre site to be used for social housing.
Prison and council chiefs were taken by surprise in November last year when Chancellor George Osborne announced the prison would shut.
At a meeting at the Unity Hall, in Upper Street, RJN’s Maureen Mansfield said Holloway, the largest women’s prison in Europe with a capacity of 500, was now half-empty.
Women are being sent to HMP Bronzefield and Downview in Surrey. Holloway is expected to be empty by August. The land has not yet been sold.
Ruth Clarke, from MP Jeremy Corbyn’s office, said she had been told by the prison governor that most staff had been redeployed.
RJN believes the closure is an opportunity to start a new conversation around imprisonment, social justice and social housing – especially given so many women are in prison for reasons of poverty.
“The way this has been proposed to the public is that the women will be better off and the people of London will be better off,” Ms Mansfield said. “What we say is that neither of these things are true.”
She feared the land could be sold to property developers at huge prices. “This is a knee-jerk decision, not with the interests of the women or the community in mind but to pay down the deficit,” she added.
Families will have to travel farther to visit prisoners, and London women will no longer be released into their communities, she added. It emerged last week that women from Bronzefield were being given tents on their release as they had no homes to go to.
Pentonville Prison, in Caledonian Road, is also expected to be sold. “These are two massive sites and Islington is in dire need of social housing,” Ms Mansfield said.
RJN is proposing that the Holloway prison visitors’ centre becomes a women’s centre.