A nervous wait
While we wait, with more than a little apprehension, to the now significantly delayed, government response to the Justice Committee report on the IPP sentence, I thought it was worth sharing a new research briefing from the House of Commons Library on Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection. The Committee called on the Government to re-sentence all prisoners subject to IPP sentences, saying that the current regime for managing IPP prisoners is “inadequate” in supporting their specific needs and calling for swift improvement in the quality of support they are given.
What are IPP sentences?
Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP sentences) were available for courts to impose from 2005 to 2012. They were designed to detain offenders who posed a significant risk of causing serious harm to the public through further serious offences in prison until they no longer posed such a risk.
IPP sentences are indeterminate as opposed to fixed-term sentences. They have a minimum term that must be served in custody, sometimes called a ‘tariff’ that must be served before a prisoner can be considered for release by the Parole Board. The prisoner can then only be released once the Parole Board is satisfied the prisoner no longer needs to be confined for the safety of the public. Release is never automatic, and prisoners can be detained indefinitely if the Parole Board decides it is not safe to release them.
When released, a person serving an IPP sentence will be on licence, subject to conditions. Breaching the conditions of the licence may result in the person being recalled to prison. If recalled a person must remain in prison until the Parole Board is satisfied that custody is no longer necessary for public protection. The licence will be in force indefinitely until its termination. People serving an IPP sentence are eligible to have termination of their licence considered by the Parole Board ten years after their first release.
It became quickly apparent that the provision was too broad and caught up less serious offenders and IPP sentences were abolished in December 2012. However, the change was not made retrospective and so did not apply to existing IPP prisoners.
As of 30 September 2022, there were 1,437 unreleased IPP prisoners in custody in England and Wales. In addition to these unreleased IPP prisoners, there were 1,434 recalled IPP prisoners in custody on 30 September 2022, making 2,890 IPP prisoners in total. As of 30 September 2022, all but 43 unreleased IPP prisoners had passed their tariff date.
Pressure for change
Following abolition of the IPP sentence pressure for change continued. Campaigning organisations continue to highlight the damaging effects of the IPP sentence on those still serving them and their families. Anyone wanting further information on IPPs, or who wants support because they or a family member or friend are an IPP prisoner should contact the excellent campaign group UNGRIPP.
The Justice Committee report highlighted the psychological harm of the IPP sentence and concluded that while some efforts had been made in the last ten years to reduce the IPP prison population, not enough had been done.
The Committee’s primary recommendation to Government was that it should bring forward legislation to enable a resentencing exercise in relation to IPP sentenced individuals.
The Government’s position
The briefing summarises the current Government’s position, noting that the Government has not yet responded to the Justice Committee’s report, despite having initially stated it would respond by 28 November 2022.
The Ministry of Justice has said it will produce a revised and refreshed IPP Action Plan. The Government has said it is committed to supporting those serving an IPP sentence in prison to reduce their risk to the point where the Parole Board judges that they are safe to release, and those serving an IPP sentence in the community to progress to the point where the Parole Board judges that their IPP sentence may safely be terminated.
The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, indicated in evidence to the Justice Committee on 22 November 2022 that he would not be in favour of a resentencing exercise such as that suggested by the Committee.
Given this indication of his position two months ago, it is not clear exactly what is delaying the Government’s response.