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IPP recalls mostly in line with policy
Prison van bringing prisoners from court
HMI Probation finds IPP recalls mostly in line with policy but deplores lack of support and continuity of supervising officers.

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Thematic inspection

Last week (14 December 2023), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation published a thematic report of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) recall decisions. The report concluded that most recall decisions in the sample inspected were taken in line with HMPPS policy. This policy does not take into account what is generally regarded as a manifestly unfair licence period of 10 years, even though the tariff for many original offences was two years or less. The inspection also found that better support needs to be in place, both before IPP prisoners are released from prison and during their time back in the community.

Context

The sentence of IPP was introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and was abolished in 2012. In 2022, the Justice Committee published a report outlining ongoing concerns about the sentence, including that the number of individuals who had been recalled would exceed the number who had never been released. The Committee argued that some individuals serving an IPP sentence on licence in the community were being recalled to prison unnecessarily. This thematic inspection was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to take a closer look at the decisions made by the Probation Service. It includes an analysis of recall events between 01 January 2019 and 21 March 2023 and an in-depth review of 26 recalled IPP prisoners.

For the vast majority of these cases, inspectors found the recall to be appropriate “as the individual had been exhibiting behaviour similar to that surrounding the original offence or there were concerns that their behaviour could give rise to a serious offence”.

Key findings

The inspection found that:

  • There was a lack of support for those with substance misuse and/or mental health issues. This was often the cause for a deterioration in behaviour leading to recall.
  • Staffing issues meant prisoners experienced a lack of continuity during both custody and the period spent on licence, with some being supervised by several different probation officers (POs). This has led to a lack of trust and an unwillingness to communicate concerns with their POs.
  • People were not prepared well for their release into the community. Many felt overwhelmed with life in the community and struggled to cope.

Interim Chief Inspector of Probation Sue McAllister said:

“In the cases we examined for this thematic inspection, recall action was taken in line with Probation Service policies and procedures. However, we cannot overlook the fact that there were a few cases where it may have been possible to avoid recall. Therein lies the dilemma for probation practitioners and their managers. To act too swiftly risks recalling to prison someone who does not need to be there. Not to act quickly enough risks someone committing a serious offence. We do not underestimate the challenge, or the skills that are required to make the decision.”

Preparing for release and period on licence

Inspectors saw some good practice where the probation officer had supported the individual when in prison, providing practical support whilst being clear about the risk assessment. However, staffing issues in the Probation Service led to last-minute changes of probation officers both in prison and in the community. This made it hard for individuals to build trust and confide when problems were arising.

There was a lack of appropriate resources for problems such as mental health, neurodiversity conditions, trauma, and substance abuse which were often linked to the decision to recall. More could have been done during the transition into the community, including work to ensure training or education started in prison was continued on release. Without this support, lives and behaviour broke down.

Most individuals had appropriate accommodation arrangements on release, with plans for move-on accommodation being considered at an early stage.

Recall

This inspection agreed with the recall decision in most of the reviewed cases and concluded that the recall decision made by probation practitioners was appropriate and proportionate to the risks presented. In some cases, practitioners made this decision without input from partner agencies who may have been able to provide information to help practitioners in their decision.

This report makes 11 recommendations. Two of these are for the MoJ including to work with other government departments to ensure those serving IPP sentences are able to access appropriate help. Nine recommendations are for HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), including to improve the continuity of case management and ensure those serving IPP sentences are actively managed through multi-agency forums.

Clearly implementation of these recommendations will be dependent on HMPPS resolving its chronic under-staffing problem and getting many more probation staff in post so that there can be consistent support and supervision from the same person. 

The IPP caseload itself should drop substantially when the new provisions to cut the licence period in half (from 10 years to five) comes into effect, hopefully in early 2024.

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

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