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Government tackles half the IPP problem
Government proposes to cut IPP licence in half from 10 to 5 years but takes no action for those still inside.

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Limited reform

The Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has announced a partial reform to one of the greatest injustices in our criminal justice system – the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection, commonly known as IPPs. Mr Chalk has proposed changes to the indefinite licence period which all IPP prisoners are subjected to, by introducing government amendments to the Victims and Prisoners bill which will:

  • Reduce the qualifying period for an IPP licence review from 10 to three years. This means that three years after their release, a person serving an IPP will be automatically referred to the Parole Board for a review of their licence.
  • If a licence is not terminated at the three-year mark by the Parole Board, it will automatically terminate after a further two years if the person is not recalled to prison in that time.

History

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. Every Justice Secretary (including David Blunkett who introduced the IPP legislation) has denounced the injustice of the sentence.

Facts and figures

Despite its abolition in 2012, there are 1,355 people in prison serving an IPP sentence who have never been released. Nearly all (98%) are still in prison despite having already served their tariff—the minimum period they must spend in custody and considered necessary to serve as punishment for the offence.

Of the 1,327 people who have passed their tariff, 216 people are still in prison despite being given a tariff of less than two years—189 of them are still in prison over a decade after their original tariff expired.

Many people serving an IPP sentence are being recalled back to prison after their release. In the most recent 12 months, 602 people serving an IPP sentence on licence were recalled and returned to custody, whereas only 638 people were either released for the first time or re-released having been previously recalled.

© Prison Reform Trust

Conclusion

The Government has addressed one of the key injustices of the IPP sentence – that it can be ever-lasting and even people released for very many years can be recalled to prison either for committing any offence, no matter how minor, or because their supervising probation officer considers an aspect of their behaviour to be “risky”. This has a serious impact on people’s mental health and ability to form relationships and live a “normal life”.

It is anticipated that the Victims and Prisoners Bill will become law in the next few months and that its provisions will come into law shortly afterwards.

The changes will be applied retrospectively, meaning that around 1,800 offenders who have been on licence for five years or more and not been recalled will have their licences terminated by March 2025. During the early part of 2025, another 800 or so will become eligible for consideration by the Parole Board.

However, the Government has chosen to ignore the plight of those who remain in prison, despite serving years over their tariff and has rejected the Justice Committee’s recommendation that everyone on an IPP should be re-sentenced to a determinate sentence which is just and proportionate to the offence they committed.

Penal reform organisations will continue to lobby for these changes as the Bill makes its way through parliament.

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here

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