At 14:30 on Saturday 27th May, feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut occupied Holloway Prison Visitor’s Centre to demand that the empty space be used to support local domestic violence survivors. Eight activists entered the building via an open window, as 150 rallied outside. One of the key issues they are raising is the closure of domestic violence services since the credit crunch of 2008.
Sisters Uncut activist Aisha Streetson says, 'We are reclaiming the former prison, a site of violence, to demand that public land is used for public good. Prisons are an inhumane response to social problems faced by vulnerable women – the government should provide a better answer.'
A local domestic violence support worker, Lauren Massing, who is attending the protest says, 'If the government have money for mega prisons, they have money for domestic violence support services. 46% of women in prison are domestic violence survivors – if they had the support they needed, it’s likely they wouldn’t end up in prison.'
In 2015, Women’s Aid reported that refuges are being forced to turn away 2 in 3 survivors who approach them to safety. Reasons for refusal range from lack of space to a refuge being unable to meet a survivors’ needs (such as language or disability). Women’s Aid data shows that for BME women, that number rises to 4 in 5 turned away.
In February this year, the Community Plan for Holloway, a project of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, held an event outside the Visitor's Centre calling for it to be opened for public use while the lengthy decision making process about land use is made. In late April, the project launched a survey asking local residents and others what they think the site should be used for. The deadline for filling in the survey is 31 July.
The Centre's deputy director, Will McMahon said
There is obviously a lot of concern about what is going to happen to the land. It will take years for the decision to be made, so it would make sense for the former Visitor's Centre, a modern building outside the prison walls, to be put to good use in the meantime.
We want to encourage the biggest possible response to our survey about the redevelopment of Holloway Prison so that the Ministry of Justice can hear what the people of Islington would really like to see on the site.