In a strongly worded report published today, the Justice Committee has called on the Government to re-sentence all prisoners subject to IPP sentences. The Committee finds that the current regime for managing IPP prisoners is inadequate in supporting their specific needs and calls for swift improvement in the quality of support they are given.
IPP sentences were introduced to prevent serious offenders being released when still a danger to the public. Despite being scrapped in 2012, nearly 3,000 people remain in prison having been given an IPP sentence. In some cases, individuals have been imprisoned a decade beyond the tariff for their original sentence which could be as low as two years or less.
Under the IPP sentencing system, release is based on successful rehabilitation and prisoners no longer being deemed a risk to the general public. However, the Committee has found that inadequate provision of support services inside and outside of prison has led to a ‘recall merry-go-round’, with almost half of prisoners currently serving an IPP sentence having been released previously.
The Committee finds that IPP sentences cause acute harm to those subject to them, with the prospect of serving a sentence without an end date causing higher levels of self-harm as well as a lack of trust in the system that is meant to rehabilitate them.
The report calls for all prisoners currently serving IPP sentences to be re-sentenced, with an independent panel appointed to advise on the practical implementation of what is likely to be a complex task. It further calls for the current time period after which prisoners can be considered for the termination of their licence following release to be halved, from ten years to five.
The Sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection
The Sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP sentence) was introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to detain people in prison who posed a significant risk of causing harm to the public. Following criticism of the sentence and its operation, it was reformed in 2008, and subsequently abolished in 2012. In total, 8,711 individuals received an IPP sentence. As of June 2022, there were 2,926 IPP prisoners, of which 1,492 have never been released and 1,434 have been recalled to custody. 608 prisoners are at least 10 years over their original tariff, 188 of whom originally received a tariff of less than two years. The Government expects the recalled population of IPP prisoners to soon exceed the number who have never been released.
The Justice Committee report is critical of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)’s action plan for reducing the size of the IPP prison population, saying that it lacks a clear strategic priority and ownership, as well as operational detail and performance measures. The report outlines the various challenges prisoners face to progression, including access to mental health services and the availability of course places, as well as raising concern about the transparency surrounding programme evaluations.
MPs on the Committee also found that the parole process, and the probation service’s involvement in it, to be ineffective and posing a significant barrier to progress for IPP offenders. Having secured release, the Committee argues that the Government needs to devote far greater energy to tackling the “recall merry-go-round”, with efforts to successfully integrating IPP prison leavers into society matching the effort made in helping them achieve release.
The Committee also recommends a reduction to the qualifying licence period from 10 years to five years as a means of going some way to restoring the proportionality of the sentence.
Call for re-sentencing
In a trenchantly worded report, the Committee goes much further than may commentators expected, saying that the recommendations set out above will not be sufficient on their own to deal with the problems identified with the IPP sentence.
The Committee’s primary recommendation is that the Government conducts a resentencing exercise for all IPP-sentenced individuals (except for those who have successfully had their licence terminated).
It says that inn attempting to deal comprehensively with this issue, the process for resentencing must be guided by three key principles:
- balancing protection of the public with justice for the individual offender;
- recognising and protecting the independence of the judiciary; and
- ensuring that no harsher sentence is imposed retrospectively.
The Committee acknowledges that establishing a resentencing exercise will be administratively complex. Accordingly, it recommends that the Government set up a time-limited small expert committee to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise in conjunction with the senior judiciary.
If you would like further reading about IPPs, I recommend two sources of information. Firstly, UNGRIPP, the website of the campaign group to reform the IPP sentence which is the most comprehensive and detailed resource on IPPS available. Secondly, you can see my summaries of all the major reports and research on IPPs at my IPP resource page.