The House of Commons Justice Committee has this morning (9 February 2023) published the government’s disappointing response to the Committee’s report on IPPs. The Justice Committee urged the government to re-sentence everyone on the discredited and abandoned IPP sentence and to reduce the minimum licence term from ten years to five. The government has rejected both recommendations.
Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP sentences) were available for courts to impose from 2005 to 2012. They were designed to detain offenders who posed a significant risk of causing serious harm to the public through further serious offences in prison until they no longer posed such a risk.
IPP sentences are indeterminate as opposed to fixed-term sentences. They have a minimum term that must be served in custody, sometimes called a ‘tariff’ that must be served before a prisoner can be considered for release by the Parole Board. The prisoner can then only be released once the Parole Board is satisfied the prisoner no longer needs to be confined for the safety of the public. Release is never automatic, and prisoners can be detained indefinitely if the Parole Board decides it is not safe to release them.
When released, a person serving an IPP sentence will be on licence, subject to conditions. Breaching the conditions of the licence may result in the person being recalled to prison. If recalled a person must remain in prison until the Parole Board is satisfied that custody is no longer necessary for public protection. The licence will be in force indefinitely until its termination. People serving an IPP sentence are eligible to have termination of their licence considered by the Parole Board ten years after their first release.
It became quickly apparent that the provision was too broad and caught up less serious offenders and IPP sentences were abolished in December 2012. However, the change was not made retrospective and so did not apply to existing IPP prisoners.
As of 30 September 2022, there were 1,437 unreleased IPP prisoners in custody in England and Wales. In addition to these unreleased IPP prisoners, there were 1,434 recalled IPP prisoners in custody on 30 September 2022, making 2,890 IPP prisoners in total. As of 30 September 2022, all but 43 unreleased IPP prisoners had passed their tariff date.
The chart below is reproduced from a recent House of Commons Library research briefing.
In his response to the Committee’s report, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab gives brief reasons for the government response. He rejects the proposed re-sentencing exercise on the grounds that this could:
“lead to the immediate release of many offenders who have been assessed as unsafe for release by the Parole Board, many with no period of supervision in the community”.
Mr Raab does not give a clear reason for rejecting the Committee’s recommendation to reduce the licence period from 10 years to 5. The lengthy licence period is one of the main reasons that so many IPPs are recalled to prison because even a minor offence – or indeed an unproven allegation – typically results in recall for anyone with the IPP label. Mr Raab does however promise to:
“review the policy and practice for suspending the supervision requirements of the IPP licence, with a view to ensuring that in appropriate cases IPP offenders are considered for referral to the Parole Board”.
He has also asked the probation inspectorate to undertake an an independent thematic inspection on the proportionality of recall. At the same time, Mr Raab has rejected the Committee’s recommendation that the Parole Board should have a greater role in decision-making around recalls.
The government has agreed to review and update its IPP action plan, although IPPs and their families and friends are unlikely to be overly optimistic that this will make much difference to those serving a sentence which was discredited and abolished over a decade ago.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here