In England and Wales, the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence was a form of indeterminate sentence introduced by s.225 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (with effect from 2005) and abolished in 2012.
Lord Blunkett brought in the sentence for offenders that were extremely high risk such as murderers and paedophiles, however due to judges not being precisely aware of what they should be used for, instead of 900 offenders receiving one, 9,000 received one. Since the sentences were abolished in 2012, 4,000 offenders still remain in prison.
Originally when the sentence was brought in offenders were set a minimum term (tariff) which they must spend in prison. After they had completed their tariff they could apply to the Parole Board for release. The Parole Board was told to only release an offender if it was satisfied that there was no longer a necessity for the protection of the public for the offender to be confined. However this was not the case. Even the most vulnerable of offenders that have completed all courses asked of them whilst in prison are still awaiting release.
In an article on 16 August 2017, fifteen years after the IPP’s implementation, and five years since it was abolished, its creator Lord David Blunkett says he made a mistake. “I’m to blame for IPP,” he remarks in an exclusive interview, “and we would do it differently now. If I had my time again I would have ensured from the beginning that the IPP could only be applied for people with very substantial tariffs.” This does not help those still in prison with no release in sight and away from those that they love.
The Guardian reported on 14 August 2017 that Nick Hardwick, Chairman of the Parole Board and also a former chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that hundreds of prisoners are serving time several years over the minimum tariffs set for them, and many are prone to self-harm as a result:
“The levels of suicide, assault, and self-harm is unacceptably high. It’s the fault of political and policy decisions that should have been put right two years ago.”
Recent figures show that there are 550 incidents of self-harm for every 1,000 IPP prisoners. This compares with 324 incidents for every 1,000 prisoners serving determinate or fixed terms, and is more than twice the rate of 200 per 1,000 prisoners for those serving life sentences.
A report released by the Criminal Law & Justice Weekly on 7 January 2017, stated that the recall rate for IPP sentence prisoners was high compared with those with life sentences, i.e. Indeterminate Sentence Prisoners (ISP). In 2015, around 500 IPP sentence prisoners were released, but 391 were recalled in this period. Most of this was not related to reoffending, but rather to “risky” behaviour such as the use of alcohol/drugs, which can still manifest in the community. In addition, through discussion with recalled IPP prisoners, there is some anecdotal evidence that gaps in the provision of some key community services, for example mental health services, can lead to a breakdown of the release plan.
The reasons for recall varied greatly, from relatively minor breaches in licence conditions to serious reoffending. Once recalled, prisoners often spent months in prison before a decision was made about whether the recall was justified, and whether they should remain in prison. However, the Parole Board says the serious reoffending rate for IPP prisoners on release is very low, estimated at less than 1%.
My partner Ian Hartley is suffering greatly from the mental torture of serving this inhumane sentence and actually wrote a letter informing people of his thoughts and feelings (see the link below). Each time I visit him he tells me of the long nights when he lies scared in his cell of what he is thinking. He has told me that the only reason he has not committed suicide is because of me and how I would feel if I was left without him. It is cruel to keep a human being on an indefinite sentence, expecting them to complete courses and adhere to instructions when there is no end in sight for them.
I leave each visit with a heavy heart knowing that I have left Ian alone and isolated. It absolutely breaks me thinking of him in that cell surrounded by four walls with no expectations or hope whatsoever. I will do everything I can in the way of protesting and marching to raise awareness of the remaining serving IPPs and also those that are at risk from recall. But at the end of the day it is down to David Lidington, the Justice Secretary, to do something about these prisoners. Many have served their time, plus an extra sentence, because they have been left and forgotten about after the abolition of the IPP sentences in 2012.
Notes: Ian Hartley is currently imprisoned on an IPP sentence in HMP Risley. He is suffering and vulnerable as a direct result of the barbarity of the IPP system.
Author: Joanne Hibbert is an anti-IPP campaigner from Lancashire