England: Justice committee finds IPP sentences ‘irredeemably flawed’
Westminster’s justice committee has called on the UK government to re-sentence all prisoners subject to Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences.
In a report published today, 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 in 2005 for serious offenders who were deemed to pose an ongoing risk to public safety but did not merit a life sentence.
In practice, anyone convicted of any one of 96 serious violent or sexual offences who had also a previous conviction from one of a list of 153 specified offences was liable to an IPP sentence meaning that they could be imprisoned indefinitely beyond their minimum jail tariff.
IPP sentences were abolished in 2012 but there are still 2,926 people imprisoned under them, including 1,434 that were recalled to custody having been released. 608 have been in jail for over decade beyond their original tariff, including 188 who were originally imprisoned for 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.
Chair of the justice committee, Sir Bob Neill, said: “IPP sentences were abolished a decade ago but little has been done to deal with the long-term consequences on those subject to them. They are currently being failed in a prison system that has left them behind, with inadequate support for the specific challenges caused by the very way they have been convicted and sentenced.
“Successive Secretaries of State have accepted that change needs to happen but little has been done. The decision must be made once and for all to end the legacy of IPP sentences and come up with a solution that is proportionate to offenders while protecting the public.
“We appreciate that establishing a resentencing exercise will be administratively complex. That is why we have called for time-limited small expert committee to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise in conjunction with the senior judiciary.
“There must also be adequate support systems put in place to ensure prisoners are prepared for their release and given the right support to reintegrate into the community.
“We do not underestimate the complexity of this undertaking, but after a decade of inertia the status quo cannot be allowed to continue.”