On Saturday 27 May 2017, Sisters Uncut reclaimed the previously-closed Visitors Centre of Holloway Women’s Prison. Eight Sisters entered the building via an open window, while several protested on the roof and 150 rallied outside in solidarity. After a ten hour standoff with seventy police officers – mostly male and mostly white – we secured the building at around midnight on Sunday. The police kettled peaceful protestors, denying them access to food, water and toilet facilities. They also hit their batons against the windows and flashed lights into the building, preventing the sisters inside from sleeping. This is a well-known torture technique. Women and non-binary people putting on a community festival and creating a safe social space were met with brutal state violence.

“Abolitionist feminism is a response to the carceral feminism of the past. This project will help to create greater insight, and hopefully more action against the prison industrial complex.”
– Angela Davis speaking about the reclamation of Holloway Women’s Prison, 2017

In spite of state violence, this week Sisters Uncut held a vibrant and welcoming community festival, which was open to all women and non-binary people, as well as children. Workshops and activities were delivered by organisations such as StART (a local community land trust), Movement for Justice, Reclaim Holloway, Anti-Raids, English Collective of Prostitutes and Haringey Housing Action Group.

Holloway Prison was closed in July 2016 and has been left standing empty for the past year. The land, owned by the Ministry of Justice, is set to be sold off for private property redevelopment; generating funds to build new “mega prisons”. In reclaiming this space, we want to pay respect to all of the women who lived and died in Holloway Prison, the years of their lives that they lost, and the state violence that they were met with.

The women who were incarcerated in Holloway, as with incarcerated women everywhere, are proof of the state’s failure to provide support for women when they most need it. 46% of women in prisons are survivors of domestic violence and 53% have reported experiencing child abuse. These stark statistics are evidence that the state violently criminalises vulnerable women, who are overwhelmingly black, brown and/or working class.

Sarah Reed, a black woman who was found dead in her Holloway Prison cell in 2016, was a survivor of sexual assault.  She was beaten by the Metropolitan police after being incarcerated for protecting herself during this assault. Whilst in prison she was denied access to vital medication. Sarah Reed didn’t make it out of prison alive. Her story is not an isolated case; the criminal justice system routinely fails to protect and serve justice to vulnerable women.

One third of women leave prison homeless, adding to the already rising levels of homelessness in Britain. In Islington, where Holloway Prison is situated, there are currently 20,000 households on the waiting list for council housing . The 8-acre site that Holloway Prison stands upon is set to be sold off to private property developers for redevelopment. GVA, the property agents who have been instructed to oversee the sale, are notorious for “estate regeneration”, or social cleansing, and are aiming to maximise profit from this public land. Sisters Uncut believe that Holloway Women’s Prison, a site of historical state violence, should be used for the public good. We want to see affordable and social housing and accessible community spaces. We also want to see a women’s building that houses services that work with and for women who are subjected to gendered and sexual violence, and targeted by immigration and domestic state institutions. The site should serve the needs of the local community, not tear it apart.

Sisters Uncut call for the abolition of our racist carceral system. The closure of Holloway is not a step towards achieving this. Rather, it is about prime real estate, mega prisons, and the systematic displacement of imprisoned women far away from their friends, families, and support services.

Abolish prisons. Stop violence against women. End austerity. Now.

Smashing the patriarchy is expensive, so is putting on a community festival. If you would like to support Sisters Uncut’s work, you can donate via PayPal.