Campaigners gathered on a wet Saturday morning to protest against the reopening of the Hassockfield site as a new immigration detention centre for foreign women.
The No to Hassockfield group protested at the gates, chanting, making speeches and performing three theatrical plays to highlight the plight of women.
Hassockfield used to be a detention centre for boys, called Medomsley. It hit the headlines in recent years after it emerged there had been historic abuse of boys at the unit during the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
The government now wants to use the site as part of its overhaul of its asylum and immigration policy.
Former Gateshead GP, Helen Groom, told ITV News Tyne Tees: "The women who will be detained here are not criminals. Anybody who commits a criminal act goes to prison. These women are detained merely because they’ve come to this country to seek sanctuary."
Protester, Rosa Stourac McCreery said: "They haven’t committed crimes. They’re not a danger to anyone, but a detention is being locked up. It’s prison. Those people don’t have a right to leave, they can’t pop out to the shops, you know, it’s not a home. It’s prison."
The Home Office said the human rights of the detained women will be ensured and that “the new centre in Hassockfield will be tailor designed to cater to the needs of the women detained. It will include vital services such as mental health in-reach and a bespoke healthcare suite".
Member of the group, former Labour MEP Julie Ward, said: "There are job adverts out for beauty therapists, hairdressers, you know, artists to come and work here, and people to give these women mental health support. Actually the best mental health support is to not lock them up in the first place.
Conservative MP for North West Durham, Richard Holden, argued the site would be put to good use and create 200 new jobs.
He said: "We either have a robust immigration policy or we don’t and a robust immigration policy requires at the hard end of it, people who have got no right to be here or who have broken their visa or immigration conditions, to be able to be removed from the UK.
"That’s why it’s so vital that places like Hassockfield exist."
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Immigration detention plays a crucial role in a robust immigration system and a significant proportion of women detained are facing deportation because of criminal offences.
“We make no apology for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals and those with no right to remain in the UK. Through our New Plan for Immigration we are fixing the broken asylum and immigration system to make it firm on those who seek to abuse it and fair on those most vulnerable and in need of our support.”