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How to end the IPP nightmare?
Chief Prison Inspector Peter Clarke draws attention to the unjust incarceration of people serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection

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Unintended consequences

Decisive action must be taken by the Justice Secretary to reduce the number of prisoners with a sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) who are still in prison years after the end of their tariff

That’s the headline quote from Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons accompanying a new (17 November 2016) thematic review: Unintended consequences: Finding a way forward for prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection.

He added that significant failings in the prison, probation and parole systems have contributed to the high number of prisoners unable to secure release by showing their risk had reduced.

The report

The report outlines the ongoing challenges of managing and progressing the large number of prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) who remain in prison in England and Wales. The sentence was introduced in 2005 and was designed for those who had committed specified ‘serious violent or sexual offences’ and who were deemed to pose a ‘significant risk of serious harm’ in the future. Under the sentence, high-risk individuals would serve a minimum term in prison (their tariff), during which time they would undertake work to reduce the risk they posed. When sufficient risk reduction had been achieved, they would be released by the Parole Board.

If at the end of their tariff, their risk had not been reduced sufficiently, they would continue to be detained until they had satisfied the Parole Board that they could be safety managed in the community. Most tariffs were relatively short, with an average of three years and five months. The sentence was abolished in 2012. Between 2005 and 2012, a total of 8,711 sentences were issued by the courts. As of September 2016, 3,859 of those prisoners sentenced to an IPP were still in custody, and 87% or 3,200 of these prisoners were beyond their tariff expiry date. Over a third, 42% or 1,398 prisoners, are five or more years over tariff.

For a variety of reasons, many IPP sentence prisoners were unable to demonstrate a reduction in their risk that was sufficient for the Parole Board to direct their release. These included the prisoners not being given sufficient opportunity pre-tariff to access relevant courses, delays in them being transferred to other prisons to access programmes and inadequate support being provided to help them progress through the prison system in order to demonstrate a reduction in risk.


Inspectors found that:

  • the impact of serving an IPP sentence on a prisoner could be profound;
  • IPP prisoners fell into three broad categories: those who had not reduced their risk and remained dangerous, those who could reduce their risk if the support provided was delivered more efficiently, and those who might be deemed ready for release if delays in the offender management and parole processes were resolved;
  • many prisons did not provide good quality offender management to support IPP prisoners in their progression;
  • not all IPP sentence prisoners could access the relevant offending behaviour programmes which enable them to demonstrate a reduction in their risk;
  • open conditions and release on temporary licence (ROTL) are key ways in which IPP sentence prisoners can demonstrate a reduction in their risk prior to release, but current ROTL policy prevents most IPP prisoners from undertaking ROTL while they are still in closed category C training prisons;
  • the specialist progression regime at HMP Warren Hill was promising and provided a template for how the prison system can work with some of the most difficult IPP prisoners; and
  • the recall rate for IPP sentence prisoners was high compared with those with life sentences.

The Chief Inspector argues that decisive action must be taken by the Secretary of State for Justice to ensure adequate resources and timely support are available to work with IPP prisoners to reduce their risk of harm to others and to help them progress through the custodial system towards consideration for release by the Parole Board.

The review highlighted three reasons for this action:

  1. For many IPP prisoners, it is not clear that holding them well beyond their end-of-tariff date is in the interests of public protection and therefore there are issues of fairness and justice.
  2. The cost to the public purse of continuing to hold the high numbers of IPP prisoners is significant.
  3. The pressures IPP prisoners exert on the system in terms of risk management activity, demand for offending behaviour programmes and parole processes is significant. Resources are being stretched increasingly thinly.


As part of an evaluation I am currently conducting into a prison-based scheme, I have met many prisoners on IPP (several of whom had served three, five or even seven years past their initial tariffs of two-three years) and can totally concur that the impact on individuals who have, to all effects and purposes, served their sentences but don’t have any scheduled date of release is devastating.

The Chief Inspector concludes  with these words:

It is widely accepted that implementation of the sentence was flawed and that this has contributed to the large numbers who remain in prison with this sentence, often many years post-tariff. Some people with IPP sentences remain dangerous and need to be held in prison to protect the public.  Others, however, present much lower levels of risks but system failures have impeded their progress.

The problems with the legacy of the IPP sentence are well understood and there is an openness in government to find new and innovative solutions to the problem. The Justice Secretary needs to act quickly to ensure the consequences of mistakes made in the past do not continue to resonate for many years to come.

[See former Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s proposed solution to the IPP problem.]

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The Voices of IPPs

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One Response

  1. This clearly shows that Britain is not a civilised country. When human beings are been treated in such barbaric ways, showing to the rest of the world that they care, this is double standard. It also shows the prison officials and the officials involved in the parole system are not qualified to assess the dangerous prisoners, or that they are quite happy with the system so that they can enjoy punishing prisoners further, who are alredy been punished by the justice system. Shame on your barbaric legal system and your Queen. Why is it that the prisoners sentenced between 2005 and 2012 the IPP cannot be removed? How can this be fair and just when other prisoners who were sentenced after 2012 the IPP was removed? What kind of law is that? Is this the Human rights you people talk about to the rest of the world communities, I bet most of the countries in the world will never believe that British law makers are so stupid. How did the justice department or who ever made the law decide that part of the prisoners who has IPP sentences given before 2012 will have to suffer? Is this British Justice? I think in a small village in Africa people have their own village laws far better and just than this. How can you claim to be educated and suffisticated when your legislative system is so crooked and unjust?

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