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How does an IPP sentence end?

The Parole Board has just published its advice to members on how to terminate an IPP licence.

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10 year licence

For the last eighteen months Kimmett Edgar and Mia Harris of the Prison Reform Trust and myself have been working on a study into the lived experience of people on IPP sentences who have been recalled to prison. The study will be published before the end of the year and provides (I think) a heart-wrenching insight into what feels like the never-ending experience of being subject to an IPP sentence.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

The IPP was introduced through the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and was intended to apply to dangerous people convicted of violent and sexual offences who did not merit a life sentence. People would serve a minimum term in prison (their tariff), during which time they would undertake work to reduce the risk they posed. Once their tariff expired, the Parole Board would review their case. They would only be released when their risk was considered manageable in the community. Once released, people remain subject to an indefinite licence, which they can apply to have cancelled 10 years after their initial release. The IPP sentence ended up being passed 8,711 times including on thousands of people who committed much less serious offences than originally intended and was abolished as being fundamentally unjust in 2012. However, the abolition had no retrospective powers – that is those people already on an IPP had to comply with the original legislation.

Many readers will be aware that most people serving IPPs serve many years beyond their tariff in prison (often because they are not able to access the offending behaviour programmes which could demonstrate a reduction in risk). Many will also be aware that a large number of people on IPPs who are eventually released are recalled to prison. Indeed, in the first quarter of this year, there were more prison recalls than releases (both first releases and subsequent re-releases) of people serving on IPPs. What it feels like to be constantly “treading on eggshells” throughout your life for fear of being recalled to prison is the subject of our study.

The subject of today’s blog post is the end of the IPP experience, how an IPP licence can be terminated and is prompted by the Parole Board’s publication on Wednesday (7 October) of its formal guidance to its members on how to terminate an IPP licence. Many of us are heartened by the Parole Board’s commitment to transparency and continuing drive to put the detail of its practices and procedures in the public domain.


In addition to interviewing 30 individuals who had been recalled to prison on IPP licences, we also interviewed prison, probation and parole board staff. One of the areas which caused confusion was how an IPP licence came to an end. 

People serving IPPs for non-sexual offences may apply to have their probation supervision suspended after four years from their initial release. All people serving IPPs can apply to have their licence removed after a period of ten years after their original release. The probation officers we interviewed had different understandings of the length of time that people had to wait before they could apply for their licence to be removed – some believed it to be four years. Furthermore, some probation officers incorrectly assumed that if somebody was recalled to prison, the ten-year period before which they could apply to remove their licence would start again on their re-release.  The Parole Board told us that they were not aware of any individual applying to have their licence terminated.

We know that many people on IPPs who are released from prison are never recalled so why have none of these (admittedly a reasonably small number since just 94 people had been released from an IPP sentence by the end of 2009) done so? The most likely reason is that people subject to IPPs are keen to put their past behind them and there is obviously a very long period between the likely end of supervision requirements four years post-release and the expiry of the ten year period. Individuals are not contacted to be told they can apply to have their licence terminated and many are both getting on with their lives and, understandably, reluctant to have any contact with a criminal justice system which has made them subject to a prison sentence which was subsequently abolished for being unjust.

The consequences of this situation is that anyone who has been on an IPP who is arrested for any offence, however trivial, might still be considered to be in breach of their licence and vulnerable to being recalled to prison at any time for the rest of their lives unless the licence has been officially terminated.

Official guidance

The Parole Board guidance makes it clear what should happen:

  • An offender sentenced to Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) has the right, under section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to apply for consideration to be given to terminating their IPP licence 10 years after their initial release, regardless of whether they have subsequently been recalled and re-released. 
  • Any applications for termination of an IPP licence should be made by the licensee themselves, either to the Parole Board directly or via the National Probation Service (NPS)/ PPCS. However, where an application is received directly from the licensee to the Parole Board, the NPS will still need to be notified, via PPCS, so that the correct information pack can be prepared.
  • It is only the Parole Board that can terminate an IPP licence.
  • Once an IPP licence has been terminated, the licensee will not be subject to recall, and unlike the suspension of supervision, all of the licence conditions are terminated and may not be re-imposed.

The Parole Board can make a decision either “on the papers” or by a panel at a hearing.

The guidance makes it clear that it is the person themselves who must make the application to terminate their licence although their probation officer may encourage them to do so:

  • The NPS responsible officer is not required to make applications on behalf of the licensee and so requests can be initiated by the licensee as the starting point. However, responsible officers can, where they feel it appropriate, make contact with the licensee and suggest making an application.
  • A licensee does not require the support of the responsible officer in order to make an application directly to the Parole Board. However, the responsible officer is required to produce a report where an application is made.
  • PPCS will make contact with the appointed responsible officer and ensure all the necessary paperwork, as set out in the Parole Board proforma (which has been agreed by HMPPS officials), is provided.

The publication of this guidance is helpful. But the fact remains that it is a very common experience for people on IPPs to serve sentences in excess of 20 years in prison and in the community when the average (mean) length of tariff for all IPP sentences was just three years.

Update 4 March 2021

The importance of this issue recently became even clearer when colleagues at the Prison Reform Trust were made aware that that over 380 people on IPPs are eligible for a review prior to licence termination over the next 12 months.

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30 Responses

  1. This is great news, i have always had discussions with probation about terminating my license after 10 years from my initial release, as i was recalled after 11 months but i only served 5 months due to the parole board agreeing i should never have been recalled in the first place. Still last month my probation told me i have to serve 10 years in the community from when i was last released. But i would like to know is their anyway i could move abroad as my partner of 7 years lives in Portugal but still stay on license until i apply to have it quashed maybe report to the British consulate or something similar.

  2. I received a 20 month IPP and served 13 years in prison despite a clean record and positive reports from staff who dealt with me on a daily basis. Decisions for release were always based on reports by probation who only ever had very ltd time with me due to busy caseloads. The risk averse culture resulted in negative biased reports and repeated knock backs. Despite being released 9 months ago i still have to report weekly to probation and have many additional restrictions imposed on me as well as being at the mercy of which ever officers own opinion is, that is managing me at that time. The result is that not only have spent so much time in prison which statistically raises risk but the additional restrictions limit both work and social possibilities leaving me isolated in the community, this is also known to raise risk. I feel emotionally isolated, and in constant fear of being returned to prison, not for committing a further crime but for falling foul of predjucies of probation or media. I feel less mentally healthy now and despite being in the community, which is preferable to prison, I still feel like I’m in prison and don’t know if I will ever be able to move on and put my past behind me, I regularly feel depressed with thoughts of ending it all because of the constant stress of this abolished sentence that was not made retrospective. All IPP’s should be converted to their notional determinate sentence with an an extended fixed liscence period of 5 years, at least then we would know where we stand and have something to work towards.

    1. Thanks for taking the trouble to write, Simon. I’m so sorry that it has been so difficult for you and hope that you are able to find some support for the way you are feeling. I am absolutely agree with you that IPP sentences should be set at their original tariff and the period of licence reduced. I hope you can keep battling on – hopefully 2021 will be a better year for many of us.

      1. Hi Russell

        Just to inform you that Simon was recalled to prison a few weeks ago for a very trivial matter. His hearing won’t be until August at the earliest, this really breaks my heart I don’t know how he is going to cope
        Kindest regards

  3. Ipp needs to be abolished all together it’s inhumane wrong and was stopped many years ago so why are our sons and daughters still suffering this way take away ipp now once and for all time it’s wrong that it’s still stuck on the few after it was abolished it’s done so much damage to families take it away now

  4. My partner is in on IPP however he is coming up to this 10 year mark this October. He has just been informed that he cannot terminate his licence as its life but instead can look to have his supervisions dropped. After reading this article please can you tell us where we stand with this? He has always been led to believe that he can apply for it to be terminated after 10 years but is now being told that isn’t the case and he was miss informed?

    1. Hi Emma
      The parole board official guidance, which you can read here: clearly says that a person on IPP “has the right, under section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to apply for consideration to be given to terminating their IPP licence 10 years after their initial release, regardless of whether they have subsequently been recalled and rereleased.” If your partner was released from prison 10 years ago, I suggest he shows the guidance to his supervising probation officer so they can discuss it. Of course, applying doesn’t mean that the application will be granted, but the guidance seems to be clear that there is a right to apply. Best Wishes. Russell

      1. Thank you for getting back to me. Its very stressful and a complete set back. Hopefully we can find resolution with this. Its mind boggling that there is this confusion between what licensee’s & NPS believe to be correct. Buf you have confirmed what he has believed all along so thank you!

  5. My son has been recalled after being in a hostel where he knows no one in in the area due to lockdown he has not been able to get the full support he needed. I feel that he has been let down by his outside offender manager. The offender manager in the hostel said his mental health was very bad but he recieved no help just recall
    I think during these times they should not be so quick to recall unless it’s for serious violence etc.
    His life is in ruins now and it has taken any chance of seeing his daughter away

    Tricia grigg

  6. Hi Russell.
    My name is Colin, and I am a ipp.
    I have now been on license for 10 years and today we got the ball rolling to apply to have the license terminated…..I have been supervised all the way through this, which I can appreciate, thou it has been hard, only for the fact that I’ve had this hanging over me for 10 years, scared that maybe one day I may miss an appointment an get recalled,
    Thankfully that hasn’t happened, the anxiety is real.
    My question is, the ipp was terminated in 2012, does this make it more likely that my license will be terminated?

    Many thanks


    1. Hi Colin
      Myself and colleagues at the Prison Reform Trust spoke to the Parole Board last month and they have had 4 applications to terminate the licence and approved 3 of them. I’m afraid the fact that the unjust nature of IPPs was recognised and they were discontinued won’t be considered relevant.
      Good luck


  7. I am at my wits end my son is an IPP prisoner term given 4 years he has now been in 14 years……. He as been let out on parole twice and both times he got re-called. He came out still the 24 year old that went in. I miss him so much. next parole not until next year, he will be 40yrs old.

    Terena ( a sad mum )

  8. my son served 10yrs on ipp original sentence 18 month ,he was recalled when is x partner who he went back to because of there son and after he had paid thousands to rehome them and furnish home as she claimed she was afraid of the partner she was with at the time ,then made allegations to parole she was afraid of him this is also after she had stabbed him in neck and groin with a screwdriver nothing was done about her my son was recalled no court case no trial he was the victim ,my son had permenant work good job bank savings of over 20k she had it all ,it is unfair that people on this sentence are open to attack by people like her ,my son has no rights and has lost everything and is lying rotting in a prison god knows for how much longer where are his rights

  9. hi i am 6 months away from 10yrs on release. how do i submit the applicationto the parole board i am not entiled to legal aid on this matter and many soclitors do not have a clue what to do

  10. My son has severed 11yrs IPP of a 2yr tarriff so far.he wants me to find out about if you can appealing your ipp sentence has’ hes been told there is a new appeal system just out .if you done over your tariff u could get the ipp taken off.dont know if theres any truth in this .his mother died while he was in prison from cancer.he suffers from aniexty an has other l late wife just wishes he would have his freedom one day.i can not see any ligbt at the end of the tunnel.

    1. Hi Chris, I was very sorry to hear your story about your son serving so long over tariff. I’m very sorry to say that to the best of my knowledge there’s no way to appeal an IPP sentence. As I’m sure you know, they repealed the legislation meaning no new IPPs could be made but didn’t make any changes for those already unlucky enough to have received this unjust sentence. Data published by the MoJ today admitted that 96% IPPs have served beyond their tariff. You probably know but there is a new organisation, UNGRIPP who are campaigning for people subject to IPP and are the best source for all information on IPPs:
      I hope you can get some help for your son and some support for yourself
      With very best wishes

  11. I was given an 3 year IPP in 2007 & managed to get released in 2014 , later recalled & released again in 2016 then 18 months later after walking on egg shells along with being placed 45 miles away from my family, friends, support network I decided to leave the country as saw know point in staying in a country which proclaims to the world that it represents freedom & justice when in fact it’s a lie .
    In 2020 I came back as lost my job due to Covid pandemic & was arrested at Gatwick Airport, Was sentenced to 3 months in prison for unlawfully at large & serve 6 weeks, but was in jail 11 1/2 months , The judge was very understanding to be honest after reading my statement & circumstances, Finally released 9th March 2021 & was aloud back to my home town 14 years since my conviction back in 2007 . In a hostel on tag ( GPS ) now for 6 months & start all over again . Personally if I get recalled again I won’t bother to ask or apply for release as not going through know more mental torture. Think the government should give all IPP’s the right to assisted suicide

    1. Hi David
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I was very saddened to read your story. Hope life gets better for you – don’t forget you can apply to have your licence terminated in 2024 – 10 years after your initial release.
      Good luck

  12. I wonder if anyone at RussellWebster can clarify regarding this right to a review under section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997. Does this also apply to those sentence to the OLR sentence (Order for Lifelong Restriction) in Scotland? It is a simular sentence to the DPP/IPP and has a punitive term which many of those sentence to it have exceeded many times over. If it does not are you aware of any Act that may offer a simular right to a review?

  13. I had a ipp with 2 minimum in July 2005 age 17.. I have been recalled twice an now on my 3rd release.. My 1st release was 2008. I’m now 33 years old an had enough of this burden, mentally an emotionally this sentence has broke me from the inside out.. Please tell me where to get this application so I can apply ASAP thanks

    1. Ni Nicholas
      The parole board official guidance, which you can read here: clearly says that a person on IPP “has the right, under section 31A of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 to apply for consideration to be given to terminating their IPP licence 10 years after their initial release, regardless of whether they have subsequently been recalled and rereleased.” If you were released in 2008, I suggest you show the guidance to your supervising probation officer so you can discuss it. Of course, applying doesn’t mean that the application will be granted, but the guidance seems to be clear that there is a right to apply. Best Wishes. Russell

  14. Hi can some give me a call please regarding my brother who’s suffers from mentel health and is on ipp who’s jus been recall back in to prison many thanks Salma

  15. Hi Salma, I was very sorry to hear about your brother. I’m afraid I don’t have any professional skills to be able to advise you. You probably know but there is a new organisation, UNGRIPP who are campaigning for people subject to IPP and are the best source for all information on IPPs:
    I hope you can get some help for your brother and some support for yourself
    With very best wishes

  16. Hi, My husband, 77 years old and registered disabled, was recalled in August, 2020. Never interviewed by the police. Never charged. Just report after report from probation. Over 200 pages. Because I had bruises from a fall, I’m 73 and disabled, an assumption was made that it was domestic violence. I woke in hospital, stark naked with two nurses taking photographs of me. After a year of trying, I have no idea who gave permission. Investigated by police and found insufficient evidence to take to the CPS. The police investigated a charge that he had threatened my adult son. Again. Insufficient evidence to take to the CPS. I repeat. He has never been charged. He has been in the hospital wing since last August. Effectively, solitary confinement. Police finally interviewed me May, 2021. A DC rang me to say all charges dropped. I asked him 4 times recently ‘was he charged at the police station’ but he would not give me a reply. He never saw a duty solicitor and we had to find one ourselves. They won’t let him come home and have been putting ideas for his release, including living with his sister (74 years old and also with health issues) at the other end of the country. Live in a hostel (not local) but they won’t have him because, ironically, he has never been charged and now a suggestion that he can live in a separate flat, which we will have to pay for, and he will be able to visit me during the day and go back at night. I have never been interviewed by probation. I now, to my horror have a social worker when I have no need of one. On the one occasion, a couple of months ago’ when she visited our home, I was told I was ‘fiercely independent’. I am totally independent and have paid for all my own needs for mobility etc. I have had two domestic violence workers who I have never seen, only ‘phone calls now and again. He has been accused of manipulating me by writing romantic letters and ‘bombarding’ me with ‘phone calls. Three a day. The morning call to check if I’m alive. We’ve already discussed coffins etc. It was a joke but now it’s not so funny. I have not seen my husband in just on a year. I can’t travel because of low oxygen levels and poor mobility, I live alone with no-one to take me. He is not in a local prison as they couldn’t take him and because of the distance, I can’t get there. We get no legal aid as, foolishly, we saved for our old age. This has already cost thousands. No help with a visit because I get no benefits. I gather probation should help me with a visit but nothing. His original probation officer retired this month so now we have a total unknown who is going by the paperwork written by her counterpart. Apart from a talk over video link, she doesn’t know my husband. I have tried every avenue to get help. When I contacted our MP, the email went to the wrong one and when I forwarded it to the right one, I’ve never had a reply. We are both just living in limbo. Our only chance is to agree to pay for a flat – in effect, paying for his own incarceration. As we live in a pleasant seaside town. in the unlikely event that we could find a flat, the rent would be £800-£1000 a month. We have been married for 19 years without incident. He was recalled at that time for not telling probation of our marriage.. Our barrister was Flau Kraus and he was released. However probation was hammered and it came under Article 3, human rights. i.e. torture because of the delays etc. This has gone on for a year. It is torture. All I ask is a visit because we just don’t know when this will end. Our solicitor is trying everything but it seems to be a catch 22 situation.

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