As Holloway – Europe’s largest female prison – closes and the last women leave, Independent Monitors raise concerns for the most vulnerable and mentally ill women, how family ties will be maintained and services delivered.
On 25 November 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced HMP & YOI Holloway’s closure. It was a shock to the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) and to the many organisations that have seen a steady improvement of conditions in recent years with Holloway’s effective transition into a local resettlement prison.
Media reports seized on the closure and reflected, in the main, inaccurate accounts of the care, accommodation, services and work opportunities provided in Holloway in 2015. It is not a Victorian building.
Crucially, for many women, Holloway, however uncomfortable a finding, has been regarded as a second home. For some it is the only safe place they have ever known.
In the last 5 years, Holloway has delivered a radically different agenda for women as well as helping some of the most troubled. In 2015 Holloway was delivering a rehabilitation agenda as a resettlement prison and operating to budget at a time of drastic government cuts.
In the view of the IMB, the protection of vulnerable women and rehabilitation outweigh concerns about the size of the prison or the dilapidation of the buildings. The work undertaken on so many fronts in preventing reoffending, care and provision of stability has been dismantled in a manner which lacks transparency and respect for staff and women alike.
The shortages of secure mental health beds and of suitable hostel accommodation are particular concerns, putting vulnerable women at increased risk. Relocating women to prisons in less accessible locations makes it much more expensive and difficult for children and families to visit them, undermining a vitally important part of effective rehabilitation.
The IMB therefore shares the significant disquiet felt across Holloway by many stakeholders about how its closure will affect female offenders. Holloway had become a prison where placing women’s needs and safety first were not just professional targets but values and aspirations that all staff strove to deliver as they helped some of the UK’s most vulnerable women.