The indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) was abolished in 2012, some seven years ago. However, the legal situation of the 8,000 individuals sentenced to IPP before its repeal was not altered. While many have now been released on licence, approximately 3,400 IPP prisoners remain incarcerated: some 2,200 who have never been released and a further 1,200 who have been recalled to prison.
While there have been a large number of important reports on the IPP sentence and issues therein, the role of – and need to support – families had remained largely under-explored. Recognising this, our recently-published report ‘A Helping Hand’, a collaborative project with the Prison Reform Trust, sought to examine the pains and specific needs of families of people serving IPPs, and what could be done by relevant organizations to enable them to support their relative to achieve successful resettlement.
To enable IPP prisoners´ families voices to be heard, the project sought to engage with them in a spirit of co-production through a series of workshops, interviews, surveys and informal ongoing dialogue. We found, in summary, that to date the pains and barriers faced by families of people serving IPP sentences have not sufficiently been addressed. We argue in the report:
- That the IPP sentence is deeply harmful to families
- That the state – and relevant organizations therein – should seek to mitigate these harms
- That changes in legislation, policy and practice are required in order better to enable families to support the successful resettlement of their family member serving an IPP sentence
- That the proposed changes would benefit not only families of people serving IPP sentences, but also the prisoners themselves, criminal justice organizations (by easing costs and burdens imposed by this sentence), and the public (by improving the prospects of successful long-term rehabilitation)
We can, in this short blog, point to some of the key points to emerge from our report. First, in broad terms the predominant themes identified revolved around the secondary pain and distress experienced by family members ‘on behalf’ of the IPP prisoner (see further Annison and Condry, 2018). Alongside the emotional strain, relatives reported that had become case workers on behalf of the prisoner, always ready to present and explain the individual’s case files in painstaking detail. And we often heard concerns that this work was not sufficiently recognised.
Indeed, on the contrary, often families felt that they were excluded – or at least not sufficiently or consistently involved – with processes and decisions relating to their relative and their successful rehabilitation. Communication could be variable and often poor. Information needed by families was often difficult to obtain, opaque and sometimes simply did not exist. Families also raised concerns that, in their experience, some staff in relevant organizations did not have a sufficient understanding of the IPP sentence and the specific issues that flowed from it. Sections 5 and 6 of our report ‘A Helping Hand’ examines relevant organizations and processes – including prisons, probation and parole – in detail and sets out recommendations for change.
The IPP sentence was recognised by the government in 2011 to have been ‘unclear, inconsistent and have been used far more than was ever intended,’ and that there has been more recent governmental recognition of the ‘concern and wisdom’ cumulatively gained over the 15 years since the introduction of the sentence. We welcome the progress that has been made over recent years to address the legacy of the IPP sentence. There is, however, still more that must be done.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.