Are those vicious Indeterminate Sentences ever going to be abolished?

An excellent article about the scandalous continuation of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) despite their apparent abolition by Act of Parliament (see my most recent blog post on the subject here, including comments on it) has appeared in the blog The Justice Gap, at  (Hat-tip: Lorna Elliott on Facebook.)  This should be compulsory reading for everyone interested in removing a vicious injustice from our penal system.

I have submitted the following comment on Sophie Barnes’s Justice Gap article:

An excellent article.  The only missing pieces of the jigsaw are:

(1) an explanation of how IPPs are still being handed down even after parliament has passed a law (given royal assent on 1 May 2012) which includes abolition of future IPPs — it’s because that part of the Act comes into effect only on a date to be fixed by the Justice Secretary, and no such date has been fixed so far;

(2)  that even when the date is fixed (if ever), it won’t apply retrospectively, so existing IPP prisoners won’t be affected;

(3)  that the outgoing Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, was committed to reforming the system for assessing IPPs for release after they had served their tariffs, but that reform had not been introduced when Clarke was sacked by the prime minister last week;  and

(4) that Clarke has been replaced as Justice Secretary by Chris Grayling, reputedly a hard-liner on penal policy who may be reluctant either to fix a date for abolition of IPPs or to reform the system of assessing existing IPPs for release in the ways Ken Clarke had promised to do.  Of course refusing to fix a date for abolition is tantamount to frustrating the will of parliament, but it will please the right-wing hangers and floggers on the Tory back benches.

So the outlook for reform and abolition of this wicked blot on our justice system has become bleak with the deeply regrettable removal of Ken Clarke, who was far more liberal and enlightened on the issue than most of his fellow-Tories, than his successor as Justice Secretary, and than the Labour opposition front bench. The LibDems are strangely quiet.  It’s a mess.


5 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    Brian, you are quite right in your excellent article.   It seems incomprehensible how any government can leave the ‘early short tariff sentenced prisoners’ in prison for such lengthy periods.   I am aware of people with 18 month tariffs still in prison some 4-5 years later.   I am afraid that Mr. Cameron is about to lose many votes for this idiotic unfairness as well as the ridiculous proposition of HS2.   Although Mr. Clarke had not introduced al lof his new Bill it was at least some way to abolishing the IPP and attempting to deal with the issue of the people being held on short tariff IPPs.   It sems to me that an easy way of dealing with this particular group of prisoners would be to release them on a licence for a set period, say 3 years, to free up the places as well as saving a considerable amount of money.   I say watch our Mr. Cameron, thousands of your voters are very unhappy with the IPP situation and HS2 – I suggest that you act now before you have little or no support.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Mary. I’m afraid that the new Justice Secretary is unlikely to be looking for ways to release more prisoners, whether on IPPs or determinate sentences. Rather the reverse. But perhaps he’ll see the light once he has seen his briefs. It may be just as well that there’s probably no money for building yet more prisons.

  2. wendi carson says:

    Brian you are so right in your article. I can not believe this government, Ken Clarke understood the issue of the IPP, is that why Cameron got rid ? are the voters happy that there tax is being used to keep ipp’s in prison well over their tariffs? As you know from my comments before my partner got 18mths in 2006 and now he is in prison number 8 and they are still banging courses on him he has already completed 10 courses so far and some of them he didnt need to do. When is this nightmare going to end?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Wendi. I suspect that Ken Clarke was too liberal for his party colleagues, including the prime minister, on a whole range of issues, of which IPPs were only one, and not the best-known one at that. Quite a number of journalists, penal reformers and bloggers such as me, etc., have tried to bring the shocking injustices of IPPs to public attention but for some reason it has never become widely known. Very few ordinary people even know what an IPP is. I’m sure that on its own the IPPs question wouldn’t have been enough for Clarke to lose his job. But the change of Justice Secretary is a disaster, both for reform or abolition of IPPs and for many other urgently necessary reforms. I’m fairly confident that Mr Clarke, left to himself, would have pushed IPP reform (and abolition including the date for it) and many other reforms through during his first two years in the job but he has evidently been prevented from doing so by powerful elements in his party, probably including No. 10 and the home secretary.

    As for whether the voters are happy that their taxes are being used to keep IPPs in prison well beyond their tariffs: (a) I doubt whether one voter in fifty thousand has any idea what an IPP or a tariff is or what it costs, and (b) if asked whether convicted criminals should be kept behind bars until society can be sure that they won’t turn to crime again if released, 95 per cent of the public would almost certainly reply: “Of course!” It’s sad and shameful, but….

  3. malandra wheelley says:

    Like Wendi Carson and thousands of other loved ones my brother was given a 2 year IPP sentence in 2006 and there’s no hint of a release date. In fact there’s no hint of even cat d. Hes done courses (as Wendi explains) far over the ones he should of done but they come up with one excuse after another. He’s been an enhanced prisoner not got into any trouble – whereas other lads who are NOT doing this sentence can get away with fighting and such with no consequences. Let one of our lads be as much as in the midst of any altercations and the consequences are grave. So what does this mean in plain English for our boys? Has Cameron deliberately got rid of Ken Clarke because he had the gumption to speak up for us? does he really believe we’re going to back off and ignore our loved ones? this is diabolical, barbaric and inhumane why won’t the government step in and do something? does anyone know what’s happening to our lads now? or are they forgotten about and left in prison for more years?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. Please see my response to Wendi Carson’s comment, at

  4. Allyce Swift says:

    As usual, Mr. Barder is both accurate and concise in his overall summing up of both the current and ongoing situation. Getting the IPP not only addressed but also the abolition of it passed through in The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is the first step in addressing this situation. But to date as already pointed out no date has been set as to when this will be implemented and in fact there does not have to be a date set in the near future if not deemed necessary by Mr. Grayling. My main concern in relation to this is that campaigners are going to approach things in the wrong way and cause unnecessary pressure to a crucial situation, thereby, pushing the date even further into the future.Lets not even hazard a guess as to the option of changing the release test at present!
    In relation to those already serving, it is indeed a most frustrating and disgraceful situation. NOMs are trying to deal with it as best as they can with limited resources (lack of funds). More Offender Behaviour Programmes (OBPs) are being rolled out or replaced which is a positive step in the right direction and far more IPPs are being released which can be evidenced when looking at current statistic trends.
    It is all slow but there is progress and I for one am remaining positive!

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for this. You are quite right that some progress is being made, very quietly, and that it may be counter-productive for campaigners to focus exclusively on what continues to be wrong. I think it’s legitimate to encourage those interested to ask their MPs to press Mr Grayling, the new Justice Secretary, for an indication of when he is going to set a date for abolition of future IPPs under LASPO, as that Act of Parliament requires him to do, but too much noisy publicity over the issue now, since the reshuffle, risks making matters even worse, given the strongly right-wing prejudice over penal matters that is common among the section of the Conservative party now in the ascendant.

  5. wendi carson says:

    Brian can I ask you how you feel about the European human rights court rule?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Wendi. I have commented in a new blog post — please see Any comments please add at the bottom of that new post. Briefly, it’s probably a major step forward but there are many potential pitfalls to be avoided before we open the champagne, including the government’s shameful appeal against the European Court’s ruling and its limited scope.