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.
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.