Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs): stuck in a groove?

It seems that my celebration in a recent blog post of the abolition by parliament of the vicious system of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) was a little premature, although we have all long recognised that much more remains to be done to rescue existing IPP prisoners and their families from their continuing Kafka-esque plight.  It now transpires that –

  • The provision of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) which abolishes IPPs still hasn’t been brought into effect by the Ministry of Justice, despite the Act having received the Royal Assent and passed into law on 1 May this year;
  • There have been indications that IPP abolition may not be brought into effect until well into next year, if then;
  • Judges have continued to hand down IPPs in some cases even after Parliament had formally approved their abolition (perfectly legally, since the relevant clause abolishing them has still not been brought into effect, but in clear contradiction to the will of Parliament and the government);
  • Nothing has yet been done to correct the obvious defects in the current criteria used by parole boards in deciding whether or not to release IPP prisoners who have served the punishment part of their sentences, even though the effect of those criteria is to ensure that in practice very few IPP prisoners are ever released.  The Ministry of Justice has publicly recognised the need to change them;
  • Even when an IPP prisoner is released, now or in the future, he – it’s almost always he — is released on licence, usually for ten years, and is liable to be recalled to prison, potentially indefinitely, even if he has not broken any law again (“reoffended”), essentially on the whim of  the probation officer supervising him.

No wonder the thousands of people serving IPPs and their families are wondering bitterly whether the purported abolition of IPPs in LASPO is going to make any practical difference to them or indeed to anyone else.

All this and more, including some of the likely reasons for the delays and failures to follow through on LASPO, is spelled out in detail in Mark Mullany’s admirably clear and informative post here.  This should be compulsory reading for all who remain worried about IPPs and the ominous inactivity ever since their apparent abolition by statute.  Additional light on this frustrating situation is shed by comments on my earlier post about IPPs here, here and here (warm thanks to their contributors).

Many of LASPO’s provisions not connected with IPPs are open to serious objection.  Some of these, such as the additions to the list of offences that will now attract mandatory life sentences regardless of the circumstances of individual cases and overriding the judges’ discretion, have clearly been forced on the Ministry of Justice as a quid pro quo for the abolition of IPPs and eventual liberalisation of the criteria for deciding whether to release existing IPP prisoners.  It’s an open secret that there has been strenuous objection to the abolition of IPPs from the more reactionary elements on the Tory back benches, potentially from the more primitive tabloids, and – if rumours are to be believed — even from the home office and perhaps from some of the prime minister’s advisers.  It would be intolerable if political cowardice were to be allowed to frustrate the will of Parliament as expressed in the approval of LASPO, prolonging the uncertainty and misery of tens of thousands of victims of this disgraceful system (most of them wholly innocent of any offence).  The inertia (to put it at the most charitable) of the Labour front bench in the face of this foot-dragging by the government on an issue of clear principle defies comment.

So pressure on ministers is still necessary after all.  Write to your MP, and to the newspapers, and to any of the members of the House of Lords who have been tireless in raising these matters, such as the admirable Lord Ramsbotham, and to the Labour shadow minister of Justice.  Having at last won the main battle, it would be obscene now to lose the war.


3 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    Once again, I am in total agreement with what Brian says, and being in the situation of having a son now 3 1/2 years beyond his 18 months’ minimum IPP tariff, and still no sign of release, have personal experience of the Kafka-esque situation many thousands of people are in.  A glimmer of hope has been ignited by a response today to a letter I wrote just a week ago to Lord Ramsbotham.  He says ‘quite apart from the appalling inefficency of condemning prisoners to have to wait for years for courses that sometimes do not exist in the prison to which they have been sent, it must be a gross waste of public money to keep people in prison for longer than they need to be.’  Indeed.  He is forwarding my letter to Kenneth Clarke, as ‘we seem to get nowhere by appealing to junior ministers.’  So yes, please keep writing.  It must help.

  2. Jenny evans says:

    my son is on an IPP and his tariff was 2 years 18 days. Five and a half years on he is still not released and is in  a very bad situatio where he has almost given up hope. He has not killed or raped anyone , indeed it would have been better for him if he had. The same story for him as for everyone on IPP. No places on the course needed to obtain a parole hearing. No room in the prisons that run the courses or long waiting lists to move to the prison needed to complete their course. I have written to kenneth Clarke this week at the ministry for justice and have raised the isuue at my M.P s office and we are hoping that the questions will be raised in the house of commons. Most of these prisoners are decent people who have made their payment to society a long time ago and I am surprised that their humane rights have not been breached as this sentence is inhumane and I a sure if this as happening in a middle eastern state we would be calling them barbaric. The UK needs to look a little closer to home when considering peoples human rights.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Janny. It’s an all too familiar story, I’m afraid. It’s very useful to have written to Kenneth Clarke and raised it with your MP. I suggest that you follow up your discussion with your MP with a letter to him or her at the House of Commons, recalling your discussion, setting out the facts again, and asking the MP to ask the Minister of Justice (Ken Clarke) for his comments. You could also ask the MP if he can find out from the Minister of Justice when he is going to set a date for the abolition of IPPs as required in the law that was passed on 1 May this year, and when he, the Justice Minister, is going to keep his promise to reform the procedures for parole boards to decide whether to release a post-tariff IPP. (The advantage of putting these questions through your MP as well as writing to Kenneth Clarke direct is that ministers always take seriously the letters they receive from fellow-MPs and always reply to them personally, whereas the letters they get from members of the public are often sent automatically to some civil servant to deal with and reply to, often without the minister even reading them.)

    The House of Commons is in recess (on holiday) now until after the party conferences in September/October so your son’s case couldn’t be raised on the floor of the House at the moment anyway. But if you write to your MP he/she will pass your letter on to Kenneth Clarke regardless of whether the House is sitting. You should then get a reply from your MP eventually telling you what Ken Clarke has said in reply. But all this may take some time.

  1. 9 September, 2012

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