Why we must end Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection

Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs): Why we must put an end to them once and for all!

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In the complex landscape of criminal justice, one area which is rightly seeing increased focus and pressure is the scandal of the ongoing impact of indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPPs). Controversial and unjust, IPPs were officially abolished on 1 May 2012. Twelve years later however, we have almost 3000 people that remain subject to an IPP sentence. This is unacceptable.

What are Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs)?

IPPs, introduced in England and Wales in 2003, are a form of imprisonment without a defined release date. They were intended to be for people convicted of dangerous offences who were considered a significant risk to the public but whose offence didn’t merit a life sentence.

Unlike fixed-term sentences, IPPs do not specify a release date upon sentencing. Instead, a person is given a ‘tariff’ or minimum term they will be held in custody but are only then eligible for release once they demonstrate that they no longer pose a threat to public safety. To secure release, they must convince the Parole Board that they have addressed the factors contributing to their offending behaviour and are unlikely to reoffend if released into the community.

IPP sentences came with a whole range of problems from the start. It was originally expected that IPPs would be used infrequently and only for serious and dangerous offences but in reality, they were used much more than expected and not only for serious offences but also for low-level offences.

The opportunities for people serving an IPP sentence to prove to the Parole Board that someone had made progress were also often thwarted due to a lack of availability of courses or interventions.

 

It can be difficult to prove to the Parole Board that you no longer pose a threat to public safety if all you have been doing is sitting in a prison cell. People have remained in prison much longer than their original tariff with no idea of when they might be released.

People on an IPP can remain on licence for 99 years which puts a huge strain on people on release and has led to high numbers of recalls, many for very minor infringements including which could be as little as missing an appointment with probation.

A sentence without end strips people of hope, and IPPs have led to tragedy for far too many families. There have been 90 self-inflicted deaths of people on IPPs in prison since 2005, and the rate of self-harm among IPP prisoners is more than twice that of the general prison population

Lord David Blunkett, who was Home Secretary when IPPs were introduced, has said that the IPP was his biggest regret in government.

Why is there still a problem?

Despite IPPs being abolished in 2012, this wasn’t done retrospectively and almost 3000 thousand people are still subject to an IPP sentence, 1200 of those remain in prison, with no idea as to when they will be released. 60% of those in custody have been held for at least 10 years beyond their tariff This is wrong and cannot be allowed to continue.

Call for change

Organisations such as The Prison Reform Trust, The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and UNGRIPP amongst others have campaigned for much needed change and we have seen some progress.

Changes proposed by the Government in the Victim and Prisoners Bill would mean that people released from prison would have the opportunity to have their licence automatically referred to the Parole Board for review three years after release. If their licence is not terminated at this point it will be automatically terminated after a further two years, provided the person does not reoffend. There are also moves to make recalls less likely. These are welcome and we hope will go through, but we also need to go further. Ahead of the Report stage of the Bill in the House of Lords a range of other amendments have been tabled – you can read more from our colleagues at PRT here.

We need to see a full resentencing of IPP prisoners, as recommended by the Justice Select Committee, and finally get rid of the hangover of this terrible sentence. We also need to ensure that funding is in place to provide the right support so that people have the best chance to build positive futures for themselves and their loved ones who have lived under the shadow of IPPs for far too long.

James’ story

Behind the numbers there are real people with real lives. James was given a sentence with a three-year minimum term in 2006, however it wasn’t until twelve years later he was eventually released. James was on a IPP sentence,

James says: “for the first seven years I knew I wasn’t going to be let out. I had to do certain courses and the waiting lists were massive. I just put it to the back of my mind and built a life for myself in prison. I basically gave up on the outside world."

James continues: “It was only the last four or five years that I started to think about release. I met a psychologist who helped me, and she told me that she thought I could be ready to go to an open prison and start preparing for release. Once that hope that I might get out was there it became much harder to deal with being in prison. I would go up in front of the parole board every year, I wouldn’t know if that was going to mean I was released or I had to do another year. They would focus on small misdemeanours or negative comments from prison staff and that would mean I didn’t get approved for release. I found it really unfair.

“Me and a friend would both get told off for something small, messing around in the shower or something, and for them it would mean nothing but for me could mean another year inside, as it would be brought up at the parole board. I felt like I was being judged to a higher standard than other prisoners, I was always walking on eggshells.

“I also couldn’t really prepare for release because I never knew when I was getting out. I didn’t go through the resettlement process properly, didn’t get a chance to get day release or get a job. It made it harder when I did get out.”

For James and others whose lives are still being unfairly impacted by this sentence, it is now time to finish the job on abolishing IPPs.