It was a sign of hope for many when the Justice Select Committee launched an inquiry on 23 September 2021 into Indeterminate Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). The purpose of this inquiry is to suggest legislative and policy improvements to the Government with the aim of reducing the number of IPP prisoners in prison.
IPP sentences were introduced by the Government under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for offences committed on or after 4 April 2005. The focus was to ensure that violent and dangerous offenders whose crimes would not normally warrant a life sentence stayed in prison until they were no longer a risk to society.
This meant that when an offender was given an IPP sentence, the judge would set a minimum term which they would need to serve, known as a ‘tariff’, and only after the term had passed could they apply to be released. Release would, however be at the discretion of the Parole Board who would determine whether or not they continued to pose a risk to society if released.
The problem that arose is that some offenders were given IPP sentences for less serious offences with short tariffs. For example, having represented numerous clients in prison over the years, I have had clients come to me asking for help who were given a tariff of two years by the judge. 10 years on, they remain in prison. This leads to a system that not only ruins any chance of rehabilitation into society but is also a strain on the tax paying purse. In fact, Supreme Court Justice Lord Brown described IPP sentenced prisoners as being the 'single greatest strain on our criminal justice system'. Even though IPP sentences were abolished from 2012, offenders sentenced before then still remain in the system.
So what’s the cause?
In my experience one reason is that clients are struggling to access rehabilitative programmes in prison due to overcrowding and funding issues. By gaining access to these programmes the offender can demonstrate to the Parole Board that their risk to society has been reduced and therefore can safely be released.
I often come across offenders having to wait months for a transfer to another prison that facilitates a particular programme to merely be assessed and then placed on a lengthy waiting list to join the programme. More recently, prison lockdowns and programmes having to be suspended due to the pandemic have not helped.
There is also the problem that, even if an offender is released, they are subject to a life licence which means they will be monitored by the Probation Service for the rest of their lives and can be recalled back to prison at any time often for administrative reasons. I have had numerous clients who have been recalled to prison for missing a probation appointment (for a legitimate reason) which often results in them serving further years in prison as they have to go through the entire process all over again.
The Justice Select Committee has already sought and received written submissions from IPP prisoners in relation to their experiences and opinions on the barriers to their release amongst other matters. The Committee has also heard oral evidence from prominent individuals including Lord Blunkett. It is therefore hoped that once they have had an opportunity to consider all the evidence before them, the inquiry report will make favourable and more importantly workable recommendations to the Government which are then in turn successfully implemented. Most importantly it will provide hope for those offenders still stuck in the system that this injustice will finally end.