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Holloway Prison closure ‘has decimated mental health services’

Highbury psychotherapist warns of fallout from lack of support for women

15 November, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Pamela Windham Stewart: ‘The problem does not go away’

MENTAL health services for jailed women have been “decimated” following the shock closure of Holloway prison four years ago, a leading psychotherapist has warned.

Pamela Windham Stewart, a psychotherapist from Highbury, spent 20 years offering treatment to hundreds of women at the former prison in Parkhurst Road.

She now treats women at HMP Downview in Sutton and HMP Bronzefield in Middlesex after the women from Holloway prison were moved there in November 2015. There is no longer a women’s prison in London.

“[Closing Holloway Prison] has decimated services. Now, I don’t know the ins and outs of it because I don’t know how a lot of them [services] have been funded. But there was a very strong 12-person psychotherapy group at Holloway and that hasn’t moved with the women,” she said.

The Holloway Prison site

She estimated that there had been a 75 per cent cut in psychotherapy provision after the closure of Holloway prison.

The NHS describes psychotherapy as a type of talking therapy used to treat emotional problems and mental health conditions.

Ms Windham Stewart said: “In the presence of another person who is a trained professional, people start talking about themselves, and importantly, they start to understand their behaviour better and as a result of understanding they have more control over it, which is very, very important in criminal behaviour.”

Ms Windham Stewart continues to treat women who have committed “very serious crimes” including murder and paedophilia and offers a weekly therapy group for pregnant women at HMP Bronzefield.

She said: “It’s very, very important if we want to live in a safe world, that we help and support people who have very, very violent tendencies. It’s in our best interest for people to be happy in society.”

Campaigners have pressed for council housing on the prison site

She said the reason for scant mental health provision in the two women’s prisons may be down to the long commute for therapists who previously worked at Holloway prison – it is a three-hour round trip for her to commute to HMP Downview and HMP Bronzefield.

“If you’ve got women located in central London, it’s a lot more accessible not only for the women’s family and other support systems like that, but also for professionals and specialists to get access to them,” she said.

Ms Windham Stewart, who has co-edited book therapy in prisons called The End of the Sentence, praised the “excellent mental health support” offered at Holloway which “took a long time to build up”.

She is now campaigning for the proposed women’s building at the Holloway prison site to “keep alive in people’s minds the fact of how much therapeutic work was done there”.

Housing association giant Peabody announced in March they had bought the 10-acre site to turn the space into 600 affordable homes and committed to creating a women’s building there which is to be designed by locals.

The then Tory chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne announced the closure of the largest women’s prison in Europe in November 2015 in a shock announcement that surprised staff and prisoners alike. Women were transferred out just a few days later.

Ms Windham Stewart said it was “very dangerous” to forget the plight of imprisoned women just because they were no longer in London and added: “The problem does not go away.”

She called on residents to join her at a vigil at the prison on November 24 to mark the four-year anniversary of its closure.

She said: “The idea of a vigil is about being vigilant, about keeping an eye on what’s not happening for women.”

The Ministry of Justice did not respond to our request for a comment.

The vigil is taking place at the entrance to HMP Holloway in Parkhurst Road on Sunday November 24, 4pm-5.30pm.

The End of the Sentence (The Forensic Psychotherapy Monograph Series) edited by  Pamela Windham Stewart and Jessica Collier is available here

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