Holloway Prison: Housing campaigners accuse Ministry of Justice of ‘misleading’ people over use of visitor centre

Housing campaigners want the old Holloway Prison visitor centre, right, to provide shelter for rough

Housing campaigners want the old Holloway Prison visitor centre, right, to provide shelter for rough sleepers. Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Housing campaigners have accused the Ministry of Justice of “misleading” people about the use of Holloway Prison’s visitor centre.

Since the Parkhurst Road women’s jail shut in summer 2016, campaigners have called for the visitor centre to be used as a homeless shelter.

At a meeting about the future of the prison site last month, Islington North MP and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Ministry (MoJ) had told him the centre was being used for training prison officers.

A Freedom of Information request by campaign group Reclaim Holloway asked for details about this. In its answer, the MoJ said the centre had seen 417 trainees through its doors since October last year.

A subsequent request, however, revealed training only takes place in the upstairs assessment centre. This is separate to the empty visitor centre and has a different entrance.

The visitor centre, the MoJ confirmed, is used by security guards as a base to patrol the prison and watch CCTV. They occupy it 24 hours a day. This is in line with prison policy.

But Maureen Mansfield, from Reclaim Holloway, told the Gazette: “We are not surprised by the answers but feel the MoJ has been deliberately misleading people.

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“As a community campaign we find it very strange the MoJ is spending money securing an empty building when people are sleeping in the streets. Lying empty is a travesty. There’s so much it could be used for.

“It also connects to the empty flats at Pentonville Prison. You have to wonder what’s going on.” As previously reported in the Gazette, about 100 MoJ-owned flats at the back of Pentonville are said to have been empty for 25 years.

Cllr Diarmaid Ward, Islington Council’s housing leader, added of the Holloway row: “It is utterly unacceptable that the visitor’s centre is being so criminally underused. It could be helping provide shelter right now for those people who find themselves sleeping rough.

“The MoJ is letting down local people by trying to hide that the visitor centre is empty. They must now urgently discuss with local organisations how the centre can be used as a shelter.”

The Gazette was unable to reach the MoJ’s prison service press office yesterday.