Indeterminate sentences: the double scandal
The Court of Appeal has ruled that it’s unlawful for someone given an “indeterminate sentence for public protection” (IPP) to be kept in prison beyond his ‘tariff’ (the period set by the sentencing judge as the minimum required for punishment, release thereafter being permitted on condition that the offender satisfies the parole board that he won’t reoffend) if he hasn’t been able to take one of the prison courses whose completion is a condition of release. It seems that a thousand or more prisoners serving IPPs are in this Kafkaesque, nightmare logical trap. In the words of Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison reform Trust, –
the High Court has rightly held that it is illegal to detain people until they can prove that they are safe but yet deny them the means to do so. The only wonder is that it took a court judgment to demonstrate to ministers the fault in their Alice in Wonderland logic. It is a life sentence in all but name. The only real difference is that it can be given for far less serious offences. The Prison Reform Trust has come across people given tariffs for their sentence of just 18 weeks. The tariff, as in the life sentence, is the minimum time that must be served. It represents the retribution or punishment for the offence. But even after the tariff, the person remains in prison until they have done the courses necessary to demonstrate they are ready for release.
But because of grotesque prison over-crowding and the low priority given to ‘education’ (including the courses required to qualify for release from an IPP) by the prison authorities, it is often simply impossible for an IPP prisoner to undergo the course required. Unless he has done the course, the parole board won’t consider him for release, even though he has served his tariff. So he has undergone the punishment imposed by the judge, but can’t be released because he can’t do the course that alone will satisfy the parole board that he is unlikely to commit a further offence. The result, as Juliet Lyon [left] points out, is that a person whose offence was so trivial that his tariff was set by the judge at a mere 18 weeks finds himself in effect serving a life sentence, the mandatory sentence for murder.
This trap — tariff served, no course available, no release possible, indefinite incarceration even though offence committed may have been minor — has rightly been denounced by all the prison reform bodies as well as by the Appeal Court; there are useful detailed analyses and briefs here (PDF) and here. But what these show is that the failure to make available the necessary courses for prisoners who have served their tariffs is only one part of the scandal. Indeterminate sentences are themselves a scandalous abuse of the system: ministers should never have introduced them and parliament should never have approved them, regardless of the availability or otherwise of the courses demanded by parole boards as a condition of release.
The whole concept of an indeterminate sentence which takes no account of the gravity or triviality of the specific offence for which it’s imposed is fatally flawed. Once the tariff set by the judge has been served, the offender has “paid his debt to society”, suffered his prescribed punishment, and ought to be entitled to be released. Continued imprisonment after the expiry of his tariff is no longer ‘punishment’, nor society’s retribution: it is indefinite preventive detention, based entirely on the farcical notion that some group of ‘experts’ can predict the future by making a judgement about the future behaviour of a person who may have committed a single offence in the past — and has been punished for it. The fact that the experts have apparently convinced themselves that they can’t make such a judgement unless the prisoner has done a course in prison, and that once he has done the course, they can, merely adds another dimension of fantasy to the whole crazy system.
This is yet another example of the government’s compulsive itch to lock up — necessarily indefinitely — people who have committed no prosecutable offence (or who have completed their punishment for an offence committed) but who anonymous officials or the police or security services believe may commit an offence in the future. Control orders are a particularly vicious example of this proclivity; prolonged detention without either conviction or even charge pending police investigations is another (and one which the new government actually seeks to make even worse); yet another is the government’s prolonged attempt to take powers in a new Mental Health Act to detain indefinitely persons suffering from an indefinable and untreatable mental disorder; and there’s more than a trace of it in the ASBO system, which imposes on young people whose offences have been inherently trivial conditions which are often so arduous that sooner or later the young offender is more than likely to breach them, and will then be sent to prison for the breach, even though the original offence was not by any stretch of the imagination one for which imprisonment was an available or appropriate penalty.
The urge to lock up people for offences they have not yet committed is a symptom of the disease of politicians who are irrationally risk-averse. There’s no possible logic in it. They could lock up half the population as being likely to commit an offence sooner or later, and still a proportion of the other half would continue to steal, murder, shop-lift, exceed the speed limit and plot violent terrorist acts. The justification advanced for this folly and injustice is that pre-emptive imprisonment is necessary for the protection of the public, which is the first duty of government: salus populi suprema lex. But the real motive is much less high-minded. Ministers responsible for this kind of gross abuse are principally concerned to mind their own backs. They are terrified of laying themselves open to the accusation by the Tories or the Daily Mail, or both, of being “soft on crime” or “soft on terrorism”. They seek to protect themselves against the charge, when crime figures soar (which they haven’t done for years) or terrorist atrocities are committed (which sooner or later they will be), that they had done nothing to prevent them, or hadn’t done enough. So they create a record of supposedly protective legislation to which they can point as evidence that they have not been ‘complacent’ (the gravest of political sins) or inactive in the face of danger — any danger. In trying to protect themselves in this way, on the pretence of protecting us, they have been steadily eroding our most basic human right, the right not to be imprisoned except after conviction and sentencing by a properly established court for an offence defined by law. Indeterminate sentences, with the surreal apparatus attached to them for permitting eventual release, are yet another example of rotten legislation, conceived by a panicky and unprincipled government and passed into law by a supine and negligent parliament.
If Gordon Brown really wants to make a radical change in the way the justice system has been perverted under Tony Blair, the early abolition of indeterminate sentences would make a welcome start. Don’t, however, hold your breath.
PS: According to the Prison Reform Trust, more than 3,000 indeterminate sentences have been passed over the past two years and that figure is expected to increase to more than 12,000 by 2012. The Trust points out that indeterminate sentences are in effect life jail terms that can be imposed for a list of 150 different offences. The sentences are being used for “relatively minor” offences rather than the hardened repeat offenders for whom they were designed. This is not a small-scale problem. We should be up in arms about it.
Dear Jo D, thank you very much for your e-mail. As advised, I have today e-mailed Liberty. It can take up to 6 weeks for a response, but I will keep you informed. Our son has just received a letter from his probation officer saying she thinks he is still having offence-related thoughts. There is absolutely no evidence of this. Isn’t this crazy? Warmest wishes, Patricia O
New review of IPP sentences is on:
Also on Prison Reform Trust website it’s explained quite well – basically it says the current situation is unsustainable and urges a policy review at a Ministerial level!
Maybe we can take this as a step forward?
My two bros went to appeal court to fight for there IPP Sentences to be removed… There barristers even argued they should get Extended Sentences but still No joy…Seems like its a waste of time and false hope going to the Appeal Court.
My brothers have done all the courses on sentence plan but the appeal judges answer was then they will get parole…
Which is not easy!!! After reading so many stories of others past there tarriff.
Feel deflated and really upset as I feel know there is No hope or any light at the end of tunnel.. I thought it was a Justice System..
Its seems like we cant do nothing either, feel helpless ……
Sorry to hear that,
Firstly the Appeal Judges are misinformed if they think doing the courses means they’ll get parole, my friend like many others mentioned here have done courses a long time ago and it didn’t make any difference, they should have read the review mentioned above (although it only came out on 4th) and they’d see very few manage to get released – although the government have said they will take notice of the review which they never have before.
On a practical note, do contact Francesca Cooney of the Prison Reform trust, as mentioned above, she’s very helpful and very concerned about all this, especially the effect it has on everyone involved. Also write /e-mail your MP telling him/her all about the effects of this, if they get to the point of discussing it in Parliament – which they might do, the more MP’s that understand the injustice and damaging effects of this sentence, the more helpful it would be if they do have any debates about it.
Hope this helps.
Jo D –
Thanks for your advice and i will ring Francesca Cooney 2moro… Just seems it all just falls on deaf ears when it comes to IPP Sentences.
Dont think she will be able to do much, as these decisions are down to a parole board whether they get out.
Seems like no one can help and these IPP Sentences are here to stay…
Will write to my local MP but that will fall on deaf ears….
Patricia, barristers have already declared the award of IPPs to various prisoners ‘illegal under the HRA’. They have actually said so in court, but it has availed nothing because Jack Straw has simply appealed every time, resulting in the cases being left ‘pending appeal’….i.e. in the long grass for a long time.
But there is evidence of IPPs having been overturned on appeal as long ago as 2006. See Regina v David Baird ‘and another person’, crime 993. Briefly the appeal judge didn’t consider that the degree of violence used in the original crime had been sufficient to merit an IPP. In fact he implied that the original judge had been over-zealous, and replaced the IPP with a determinate sentence. There have also been a few other cases of successful appeals – though they might have involved lawyers….and money. I’m not sure.
Contacting Francesca Cooney at the PRT – as I did – is a very good idea. She’s very helpful. But the actual figures etc I asked for were sent very efficiently by the Information Officer, Sarah Capel. Maybe people should try her if they can’t get Francesca:
The reason the Appeal Judge gave for my eldest brother was that the trial judge had the right and his previous was a GBH when he was 15yrs old. I add he is 42yrs old know and cause he has been inside for a drug charge in 1996 that warranted it as well. He said drugs are the same as violence which i find puzzling as I have never seen people given IPP for drug charges…
One of the other guys in case who got a determinate sentence and did not get IPP the appeal judge brought his name up and agreed his previous was much worse as he had, Gun charge,GBH,Robbery but Appeal Judges answer to that was , he was fortunate he did not get it ..
So were is the justice? Leaves a bitter taste in your mouth….
Seems like these sentences are passed out by trial judges on what way the wind blows for them on the day.
My brothers had a very good QC but still it mounted to nothing on appeal….Was not even willing to give Extended Sentence…
So it just shows people that deserve sentences like these get the determinate ones and the people that dont get shafted with IPP Sentences..
Please have a look at the Early Day Motion No. 1047 on the UK Parliament website. This might be a good time to re-write to the government about our views on IPPs and in particular the ones with the less than 2 years tariff. At least 6 MPs have signed the Early Day Motion – so please add your voice.
Keep strong everyone.
Jo, that sounds as appalling as it does ridiculous. I have the print-out of the 153 crimes for which IPPs can be issued, and the only single, vaguest mention of drugs is where someone commits drug rape (using rohipnol, etc). There isn’t a single mention of heroin or any other drug, either as a user or even as trafficker mentioned under the 153 IPP categories. You said you had a good barrister?
As for the case of the other man with gun crime, GBH and robbery to his ‘credit’, he would seem a textbook case for an IPP – remembering that IPPs are not usually given for a single crime ( tho’ they can be), but for at least a second offence of a serious nature (usually sex or violence or both). On the face of it it would seem the judge who gave him a determinate sentence let him off unjustifiably lightly. All very well for the appeal judge to say so too, but why didn’t he act?Unless the whole thing was before 2005 when the first IPPs were awarded.
Mary, I can only find an EDM 1047 in 2009 – referring to some sort of licence fee. I’ll check again when I have more time.
Brian writes: Andrew Stunell’s Early Day Motion 1047 is at
— or more conveniently http://bit.ly/cGUS6G.
So far it has been signed by: Stunell, Andrew, Bottomley, Peter, Spink, Bob, Russell, Bob, Hunter, Mark, and Breed, Colin: i.e., not many.
It’s no good me urging my MP to sign it — he’s a minister, so he can’t. But back-bench MPs of any party could be asked to sign. It might also be worth writing to Andrew Stunell MP to thank him for his EDM and seek his advice on how to bring this grave injustice to wider public notice. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and he is a Lib Dem MP. It might be worth-while inviting him to read some of the 112 distressing contributions at https://barder.com/696#comments, some of which he could quote in support of his campaign against IPPs. I can’t do this myself, unfortunately: I’m away on holiday with very limited internet access.
It was argued about my brother that drugs has no relevance for violence but appeal judge said it still kills people. He was not willing to change sentence once given by crown court judge. He had a pre sentence report that was written of someone else. The probation went to the CPS and the police about my brother. who werre hardly going to say anything nice about him.
The other lad that never got the IPP with the above Gun,GBH,Robbery the appeal judge said he was just lucky and fortunate… but he has been sentenced and he is not appealing anything as he knows he got off lightly…So were is the justice?
As my brothers Qc/Barrister as i add i have two brothers did use his history as having a far worst violent history.. It makes a mockery of these IPP Sentences as this guy that has got this determinate sentence and since being sentenced he has got himself in trouble again. Also this guy had only been out for 6months before he re offended..
But the trial judge said he had done a course regarding his temper which i add my brothers did as well but they never got any credit for it…Also i add he did not even complete course as he was kicked out of it for starting a fight. (So he pulled the wool over the trial judges eyes)…
The sentences were passed out in 2008, the appeal judges answer is he was fortunate, lucky ..
My brothers are still not happy i dont know if they can do anything know…
All the Appeal judges can say they will get parole as they have done all there sentence plan so whats the problem and they are progressing so well..Its ok for them to say that as they are not the ones that will get stuck in this maze and its not them as a family that is suffering..
It just makes me mad to think how can my brothers have got this sentence and he did’nt..
I have had my rant but still dont feel better….
Hi Bob, It was argued about my brother that drugs has no relevance for violence but appeal judge said it still kills people. He was not willing to change sentence once given by crown court judge. He had a pre sentence report that was written of someone else. The probation went to the CPS and the police about my brother. who werre hardly going to say anything nice about him. The other lad that never got the IPP with the above Gun,GBH,Robbery the appeal judge said he was just lucky and fortunate… but he has been sentenced and he is not appealing anything as he knows he got off lightly…So were is the justice? As my brothers Qc/Barrister as i add i have two brothers did use his history as having a far worst violent history.. It makes a mockery of these IPP Sentences as this guy that has got this determinate sentence and since being sentenced he has got himself in trouble again. Also this guy had only been out for 6months before he re offended.. But the trial judge said he had done a course regarding his temper which i add my brothers did as well but they never got any credit for it…Also i add he did not even complete course as he was kicked out of it for starting a fight. (So he pulled the wool over the trial judges eyes)…The sentences were passed out in 2008, the appeal judges answer is he was fortunate, lucky ..My brothers are still not happy i dont know if they can do anything know…All the Appeal judges can say they will get parole as they have done all there sentence plan so whats the problem and they are progressing so well..Its ok for them to say that as they are not the ones that will get stuck in this maze and its not them as a family that is suffering.. It just makes me mad to think how can my brothers have got this sentence and he did’nt..I have had my rant but still dont feel better….
I agree it sounds totally unfair, and I know it doesn’t make your brothers case any easier, but I have read and heard about so many other IPP cases just as unfair.
I’ve read about people getting determinate sentences – even before 2008, for acts of extreme violence with a lot of previous for violence who didn’t get an IPP just a determinate sentence. I think all of us aren’t asking for the people we know to ‘not be punished’ , but just to be treated as reasonably as if they’d been given a determinate sentence, which definitely isn’t happening at the moment.
I don’t think the Appeal Judge understands the problems with IPP’s ‘progressing’ and maybe anyone else going for an appeal should make them aware of how difficult it is to get released.
Bob, I found the EDM 1047 on the UK Parliament web page, Early Day Motions home page (I’m not very good at putting links in – maybe Mary could oblige). It was tabled by Andrew Stunell MP and has quite a good explanation with it. As Mary says the more MP’s that we can make aware of it and maybe sign it, the better.
Jo and Co. Important: Look at ” http://38degrees.org.uk/page/s/suggestcampaign.”
I think you’ll have to type out the url in full, but it seems a possible breakthrough on the petition front.
I’ve just signed a petition sent me by a friend to stop the BBC cuts. It was organised by ’38 degrees’ ( of whom I’d never heard). After having signed I clicked on ‘ See some of our other petitions’ – they were good ones. Then I clicked on ‘Organise a petition’ and realised this is for you guys!
I could have put my name, my email and ordinary addresses, then described the petition.
But I can’t do it, given my monitoring role. I can’t campaign overtly on prison policy.
So do have a look at it. I think the BBC one has 3,000 or so signatures already – in a week. (I didn’t look at the number properly, but have a fleeting memory of something like that.)
OK. IPP isn’t the BBC. But if the government wants 500 signatures, 38degrees sounds a good way of trying to get them. I’ll keep an eye on the blog daily and help where I can.
Brian writes: Many thanks, Bob, for this useful discovery. Rather than typing out the whole website address of this “38 Degrees”, it should be enough to click this:
I can’t start this off myself from my unpredictable internet connection and misbehaving laptop while away on holiday, but if no-one elsee has done so, I’ll try to find time to do it some time next week. If anyone else does start a petition on 38 Degrees, please post a comment here giving the website address of the new 38 Degrees petition on IPPs.
I’ve had a letter from Dame Anne Owers thanking me for information (mainly what’s mentioned above) and telling me about the review.
I’m hoping a few more MP’s will sign Andrew Stunells Early Day Motion, maybe anyone reading this would ask their MP’s to sign it (No. 1047).
There is also something in the Independent about it on 4th March, not sure of the link but I searched the Independent for ‘Indeterminate Sentences’ to find it.
I don’t know if there’s any way of finding out if the government are planning anything, because they did say they would respond to the review and I haven’t seen a response yet.
Brian writes: Thanks, Jo D. I think the article in the Independent that you refer to is the one dated 4 March at http://bit.ly/b41DtG, warning that the prisons can’t cope with the huge numbers of people locked up indefinitely in IPPs. It would be a grim paradox if the IPP régime had to be scrapped because it causes too many practical problems and not because of its rank injustice.
Without going into detail,I am posting here as I am largely against these IPP sentences for the fact they are inhumane and can cause deep distress for the prisoners families that choose to support them.They can damage your health too.I have lost count of the times I have sat in a flood of tears and have suffered physically as consequence of the uncertainty this sentence poses and I am not the one serving it.What I find appalling about these too is the fact innocent people maintaining innocence can get trapped in these.Anyone maintaining innocence cannot do certain courses for that reason and therefore have little chance of parole.Not exactly a heartwarming thought when you know the conviction is wrong and the sentence is wholly unjustified but ,like so many here I aim to plough on in the hope that someone will finally realise that they are not only punishing people ,wrongly convicted or not,they are punishing their families.How cruel.
I am having a look at 38 to see if we can get there help. I could do with some positive suggestions as to what to suggest to them – any help/ideas?
Mary, firstly can I just say your last petition was extremely well worded so I don’t know if that’s a good place to start. 38 degrees seems to do petitions and lobbying mp’s so I don’t know which would be the best option.
I think it would need to be very concise and carefully worded so that people who know nothing at all about it can understand – and be sympathetic. Mentioning the very low tariffs I think would be helpful, because that’s where the effects of the sentence are most harshly felt at the moment. There is a blog that Brian’s written on recently, if I find it again I will add it, but it went along the lines of “you need the courses to stand a chance of being released – but we’re going to make it as difficult as possible to get on the courses”.
Another article mentions ‘keep life for lifers’, which is basically saying the life sentence should be for people like Peter Sutcliffe (as it mentions) and similar crimes, and not for those that set fire to a wheelie bin. The latter is my comparism, but it was an IPP sentence given out a few years ago in Devon, the point of the article, I think, is saying the IPP (life) sentence is devalueing the importance of a mandatory life sentence.
I hope that’s a few ideas to start that could be developed?
With reference to Bob’s suggestion in his comment above (https://barder.com/696#comment-91731) that the website “38 Degrees” might provide a forum for a petition or campaign against IPPs, I have now posted a proposal for a 38 Degrees campaign on IPPs at http://bit.ly/409EaR. I don’t know what the next step will be.
For the record, I have completed the 38 Degrees form with the following suggestions and information in response to the questions asked on the form:
I hope to hear from 38 Degrees in due course that they have approved this as a 38 Degrees campaign, open for signatures in support.
Thanks Brian, I hope they don’t take too long to get back to you.
Not sure if I’ve got this right, but apparently the Indeterminate Sentences were introduced in Northern Ireland in May 2008 and so far none have been handed out (Lady Hermon’s question 24th March 2010) – I would appreciate someone telling me if I’ve read this correctly, and if it is in fact true. Also when it was introduced in Northern Ireland they said from the beginning it was only for tariffs of over 2 years, so no one would have got caught in the trap of being given a short tariff.
As Jack Straw says the reason the crime rate has gone down is in part because of him introducing Indeterminate Sentences (23rd March 2010), if the crime rate has also gone down in Northern Ireland (as it has in the rest of Europe) and there have been no IPP’s handed out, then he’s really stretching the point trying to justify what he’s done.
I have written on this blog before about my friend who is now 2 years over tariff. Good behaviour, done all the courses, turned down at 1st parole last year because he was still a risk – how do they know?? He has had no adjudications in the 3 years at CatB – a model prisoner the officers say. He stayed in CatB as he was on medical hold and PB said he should have moved. Now he is still in CatB and has been catC for a year now. Prison are now saying the parole process will start again soon and therefore he can’t move again and then PB will say why are you still here – you haven’t tried to move. I don’t think PB are aware priaoners cannot go out and get themselves new accommodation!! I’ve just spoken to him tonight and he’s had a note under the door saying he will be moved to catC within weeks – do not put in an app for moving (he’s done 2 already but to no avail)as Population management haven’t the time to process it – you will be moved SOMEWHERE within weeks and then you can put in an app to move nearer home —-oh yeah!! He’s really had enough of it all and feels it will go on for ever. INCIDENTALLY does Brian know how much priaons get for conducting a parole hearing??
can every one on this site sign my petition to free serving ipp prisoners who have done their tarriffs
it’s so inhuman it should be abolished god help me but i would love to see these people in power and their loved ones serve these ridiculous sentences but we know they would walk free we need an uprising to change the law thankyou B Jones
Brian writes: Thank you for this, B Jones. I have asked you to let me know where readers can find your petition in order to sign it.
B.Jones and everone at moment no one can sign petetion due to the election. They have seemed to close all petetions at moment.
Brian- This is the same No.10 petetion which is on this site for abolishing IPP Sentences. I take it there was no joy with 38 Degrees..
Brian writes: Thank you, Jo. That would be because parliament is in recess until after the election and there are no MPs to petition. As you guessed, 38 Degrees ignored my suggestion for a campaign or petition on IPPs and they have ignored all my messages asking them why they turned it down.
i think evey one should get togeth and do a march around london to get the ipp droped as it is not only alife sentence form prisons but is very bad on the famliy that are waiting on the out side for then to come home if thay ever come home my son as a 8 year ipp to do my hart is broken i just wish that some one could help the poor prisons,
please contack me on face book if eney one would like to march for the prisons let all get together for the thay need help contact me at email@example.com
Hello everyone – I have been missing in hospital for a while and the election took place so I am a little out of touch. I would like to suggest that everyone who has an interest in IPPs writes immediately to the new prime minister and the new justice secretary in the hope that the matter of IPPs cannot be left on the back burner. I shall write today and hope others can too.
Thanks Brian for trying with 38 Degrees – they only seem interested in policitics – not fairness and justice – keep trying everyone.
Tried emailing you but have a problem with it at the moment.
This march is probably not a bad idea. Correct me if I am wrong ,I think permission may be needed to do this though.I think the police have to be notified as it is a form of protest.
By the way I,m so sorry that you are facing the same nightmare as all of us here.I know myself how heartbreaking this is and as a result have suffered depression.I just wish someone who has no interest in abolishing this inhumane sentence would consider the families of those affected by this sentence as it is so unfair.I grant that people who commit offences need punishment ( and I may add there are some people put in this precarious situation because they will not admit to crimes that never happened) but why punish everyone with a sentence that so obviously causes human suffering ?.Why couldn,t those in the last government couldn,t have looked at the bigger picture I do not know.What about our suffering .Doesn,t that matter?.Maybe not.Well,lets hope this new government will see it in their wisdom to review this and get rid of it altogether to be replaced with something we can ALL cope with.
I have written to the prime minister suggesting that he arranges to release all prisoners with a short tariff IPP (less than 2 years) that were imposed before the change in the law in 2008. Also suggested he re-evaluates the use of IPPs for any length of tariff. Reminded him that he could save £60m by releasing the short tariff IPP prisoners of which there are (apparently) 1225 – not that one can neccessarily believe the previous government’s figures. Please could others send some letters.
Keep strong everyone.
Brian writes: Thank you for this, Mary. I think we need to wait now until the new government has settled in and has inaugurated the many reviews and commissions that they have promised. You will notice that the coalition’s agreed policy paper includes:
Although this is expressed in the usual macho language, the first section quoted does mention “cutting reoffending” and the second implies awareness of the need to reduce the prison population. The object, I suggest, should be to wait until this review is set up and then try to ensure that it takes a hard look at IPPs with a view to suggesting that those who are still in prison after serving their tariffs should be released and that the whole flawed system should be phased out. The LibDem partner in the coalition might well be open to persuasion on this.
Mary and Brian,
I have written to the new P.M. and Minister for Justice and again to all those who previously asked for this sentence to be changed such as members of the House of Lords who consistently opposed it.
In recent opposition to this sentence by the LibDems (pre-election), Conservatives were supporting them on this matter.
A friend of mine who was in contact with Nick Clegg and his party (pre-election) said they were opposed to these sentences and very interested in the figures that appear on this site.
Juliet Lyons had an article in the Guardian yesterday (21.05.10), which also mentions this sentence, which is quite interesting. I imagine Juliet Lyons has chosen the optimun time for her article, so maybe now may be a good time to support her views, especially with a view to the amount of money wasted on this sentence and the fact they need to address the budget deficit immediately.
To all those others above, my friend has now done over 3 years past his tariff, he has done everything he’s been asked to do but it’s got him no nearer to being released and the effects this has had on his health, and those supporting him is devastating. Taking away someone’s hope is a precursor to many physical illnesses which is exactly what they do on this sentence.
Brian writes: Thank you for this, Jo. The article by the splendid Juliet Lyon which you mention includes this:
The appointment of the enlightened Kenneth Clarke as Justice Secretary is a very encouraging development, as is the review of sentencing promised by the new government.
It is awful that those who are post tariff are being held hostage like this and I am not surprised that they end up with health problems.The uncertainty and desperation they feel is synonymous to what we are feeling,which can lead to stress/depression etc.
I just hope that a positive response comes out of any review as it may give those who have completed their tariff a chance to prove to those ,who introduced this outrageous sentence ,that the risk they were deemed to be was perhaps too presumptious and perhaps make those people realise that the sentence itself is pointless.Also it may give comfort to those who have not completed their tariff knowing they could be with their loved ones and families once again.
Brian writes: Thank you for this. I entirely agree. We must try to make sure that the forthcoming review of sentencing policy, promised by the coialition government, includes IPPs in its mandate.
Is there any way we can help in making sure the forthcoming review includes IPP’s in it’s mandate?
I’ve written to the PM and Justice Minister, I thought of writing to Crispin Blunt because he was one of the ministers supporting the LibDems challenge of the enormous amount of post tariff IPP’s still in prison.
Where Juliet Lyon says (your quote above) “The freedom bill will be an opportunity to review the civil-liberty crushing IPP sentence”, can you explain exactly how it relates to the freedom bill and (new) civil liberties, so that we can put it in any letters we write in to help to get the point across?
I don’t know if there’s any way of collating information on the damage it’s done to friend’s and relatives of those on this sentence. I have heard a lot of couple’s have broken up after a parole ‘knockback’ because they can’t cope with the uncertainty any more. It must also have a devastating effect on children of parents on this sentence who wouldn’t understand the uncertainty of it. I agree it’s totally pointless, why spend all that money on them doing courses in prison, and then never release them.
Brian writes: Thank you, Jo. I’m afraid that because of other preoccupations recently I haven’t had time to do the necessary research on the Web to answer your questions. The best course might be to look at the Conservative-Lib Dem Agreement (Google it — the full text is on the Web) and find the section headed Civil Liberties. I think this refers to the sentencing review: if not it should be somewhere else in the same document (you can search it). You could then write either to your MP asking him or her to use his/her influence with the Justice Minister to ensure that the sentencing review includes IPPs, quoting the Coalition Agreement on this; or you could write directly to Kenneth Clarke, as Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, with the same appeal. But your MP is much likelier to get the Justice Secretary’s attention by asking him for material with which to reply to you, than any letter from you to Clarke, which will just be referred to some junior official to reply that your views have been noted (or some meaningless formula of that kind).
I did think about asking around before I go on a visit but it,s really knowing where to start.If I could just get the word around it would be great because the more that can lend their support to this cause,the more chance people have of being taken notice of.
As for those of us affected by this sentence, it is travesty in every sense of the word.The uncertainty it leaves us with makes us very much a victim but I don,t suppose Mr Blunkett could see it in his wisdom to consider the feelings of countless people, within families and what the physical/emotional/financial damage would entail but then I guess from the replies that Mr Brown gave in reponse to the petitions ,Labour were only ever going to consider the victims of crime whether they were genuine or not.It is was always in their remit to focus on them because of an insurgent desire to control the masses behind four walls ,irrespective of whether someone should be inside or not and to pander to the public to save their own hide.Wrong really as they are or should I say were tinkering with people,s lives inside and out.No-oone should have that kind of power over people.What about our well being?.
Actually thinking about the wider implications ,I wonder if it is worth putting an argument forward about
any impact where physical/emotional/financial effects are concerned,eg NHS and DWP. I say that because I presume since the introduction of this sentence,many people have needed medical attention for illness brought on by the shock/stress of this sentence and most people have had to go cap in hand for welfare benefits that they may have, otherwise ,not been claiming for.Then of course,there is the cost to the APVU,which I presume is funded by the taxpayer.I know anyone facing this sentence on the outside and without substantial income will most likely make a claim through them to make prison visits possible.Now can this government honestly believe that and the financial cost to such bodies is sustainable long term?
Finally,on the subject of these courses,it is absurd that anyone who has taken courses are not released when the tariff has expired.Whatever happened to having a little faith and trust in people to take responsibility for their lives and proving that these courses are not the be all of our penal system?.Having read a particular story about an ex offender some time back,I know that it is possible for people to change their lives for the better and it has nothing to do with courses.Personally they are a total waste of money.
I agree totally with all you’ve said.
Like my friend, and relatives and friends of many others who’ve written on this site suffering from this sentence, the last government left it open ended so there is no obligation by parole boards to ever release anyone from this sentence – which is quite frightening.
The parole boards have no one checking on their decisions (as far as I know), so by coming up with decisions like ‘not enough evidence to prove risk is reduced’, (a well used and vague p.b. phrase) despite the fact the person has continually good reports and there is nothing more they can do to reduce their risk in prison, means they can, if they want keep that person in forever without ever having to justify their decisions.
Before going to prison my friend worked and paid taxes, and had his own house (which he since lost). He deserved a prison sentence but he’s done over 3 years past his tariff – at a cost to the taxpayer of £45,000 a year, has had to have legal aid for solicitors at probably a couple of thousand a year, and when (if ever) released will cost the taxpayer hostel accommodation and then will have to be rehoused. Multiply this up by all the other thousands who have gone past their tariff and it is an extortionate and unnecessary cost.
It’s the fact that we all know that parole boards can do whatever they like and can’t be challenged, (and it takes long enough to get all the paperwork done to get to that stage), that causes the uncertainty that leads to so much distress and upset and total feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness. It does permanent damage to all those involved in this sentence and I don’t think anyone, even if they’re a government, should be allowed to do that much damage to any human being.
We wrote to the PM on this issue as well:
Dear Prime Minister,
Re: Cost to the Tax Payer – The IPP Sentence
Britain is overwhelmed with debt. As the incoming Prime Minister you have the unenviable task of reducing the vast deficit left by the last government. It is time to cut waste from areas in which money is being spent for no ascertainable benefit.
In March 2010 the total prison population stood at 85,608, which is approximately 800 more than the highest figure predicted for March 2010. The prisons are, by anyone’s estimation, full. A very significant number of these prisoners are serving Imprisonment for Public Protection. These prisoners are given sentences by judges who set their minimum term – the ‘punishment’ period – at half of the length of a determinate sentence.
In reality, the expiry of the minimum term is almost never the date on which the prisoner is released. In fact only about 1% of all IPP prisoners have been released and have subsequently stayed out of prison. This means, for example, that someone sentenced to a 12 month IPP in November 2006 (the equivalent to a two year determinate sentence) could technically have been released in November 2007 but could still be in prison today. To date they would have served three years and six months, the equivalent of a seven-year determinate sentence.
There are approximately 6,000 IPP prisoners in custody, and the figure is rising at a rate of around 70 per month. With the average cost of keeping a prisoner in jail estimated at £40,000 per year this equates to a total of £240m per year for this class of prisoner alone, and which will continue to rise under the current system.
In order to have any chance of being released on parole, these prisoners are wholly reliant on demonstrating their reduction in risk while in prison. These prisoners are unable to access the courses they need because of the continuing problem of woefully inadequate funding. In a shockingly high number of cases, these people are simply not being given the opportunity to earn their release.
The previous government admitted that there were no centrally available reliable figures on the number of IPPs waiting to access courses. To compensate for the overcrowding, they embarked on a program of early release for determinate sentenced prisoners. There is a clear contradiction here which, we submit, cannot have been the intention of the sentencing judiciary.
Rather than being saddled with this enormously inefficient, not to mention ‘inhumane’, regime we implore you to make your pledged wholesale review of sentencing, including the IPP, a priority. So much money is wasted currently holding individuals in prison who have, because of a lack of availability of courses, been unable to demonstrate that they are no longer dangerous to the satisfaction of the Parole Board.
We are not suggesting that offenders should not be punished for their offences: On the contrary, we wholeheartedly support your proposals for mini-max sentences. If prisoners have definite dates for their earliest and latest release this will give them an impetus to want to earn release as soon as possible. This will encourage good behaviour amongst all prisoners, rather than just those serving indeterminate sentences who are scared to ‘step out of line’ while those currently serving determinate sentences aren’t as adversely affected if they are punished for misbehaviour.
Mini-max sentences will reduce pressure on the operation of the Prison Service as a whole by promoting good order inside prisons; they will enable this government to budget more accurately in terms of the annual cost of the Prison Service; and will still act as a sufficient deterrent in terms of serious crime.
The changes to IPP in 2008 did not go far enough – and there are many, many short tariff IPP prisoners still languishing in jail who were sentenced under the earlier regime. Only abolition of the IPP will put a stop to this wasteful expenditure.
 Prison Population Projections 2009-2015
 Pre-election Conservative line on IPP
 Pre-election Conservative line on IPP
 Jack Straw, House of Commons Hansard Written Answers 16th June 2009
 Independent Monitoring Board
Brian writes: Thank you very much for this. I’m sorry to have failed to respond to it earlier. Your letter seems to me to make an absolutely unanswerable case. The many people following this topic on this blog will, I’m sure, be anxious to know what reply you receive from No. 10, and I hope you will share it with us.
Michael Robinson – Reference above: we appreciate your excellent letter to the prime minister, but due to problems with the print on the post are unable to tell how you are involved in this, do you represent a professional body or have you a friend or relative serving this sentence?
To everyone on the site, there was something in the Lords Debate on 27th May by Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Goodhart asking for the IPP situation to be dealt with in light of the Thematic Review that came out in March. Lord Goodhart who is always very outspoken about this is asking for it to be abolished, although he has asked for this before he was always opposed by Lord Bach who represented the previous government. I’m not sure if there is a response to this, my alert doesn’t highlight one.
So following this and Juliet Lyons Guardian article and others above, it might be a good time to let all those who can do something, such as (new) local MP’s, all those cabinet members in the M.O.J.etc, know how cruel, damaging, costly and pointless this sentence is.
One of the many problems with the IPP sentence is that those who are convicted of sexual offences having been FOUND guilty, after being falsely accused, are left to rot in prison. This means that there families and wives/partners of these people who are serving these sentences with the incarcerated. This happens more often that you think because very often the only evidence that there is – is the word of the complainant and their “witnesses” who might have an axe to grind against the defendant.
Dear Jo D, and everyone concerned, Mr Michael Robinson is a solicitor, and his excellent letter, (see earlier), was sent to the PM, Nick Clegg, Andrew Stunell MP, Editors of national newspapers, and the Editor of Inside Time, the prisoners’ magazine. Our son sent us a copy from the latter. I have now sent a copy to our MP, and I would urge others to do the same. It is important to keep up the momentum. So many are affected by this inhumane policy In 2 weeks time, our son will have doubled his minimum 18 months tariff IPP, and has been told it could be November 2011 before a review. He has done the recommended course, but due to a further recommendation by a young trainee prison psychologist for a course for which he is not even eligible, so will not apply for, it looks as if he will never be released.
What heading is this letter under as I have had a look and can only find something under judicial review or have I misread your comment? Sorry.
By the way.sorry that you are having to go through the same nightmare.I really hope with the right pressure someone will finally take notice and get rid of this.All any of us want is a fixed release date so we can all get on with our lives and try to rebuild it.Abolishing this dreadful sentence and replacing it with something that gives us something to look forward to would be a start.
Brian writes: The letter referred to is in the comment at
I have now edited out the formatting code in it left over from copying and pasting a Word file into a Comment, which should make it easier to read.
that is something that gets overlooked. It’s difficult (usually impossible) for those who admit their guilt and do all the courses, to convince a parole board they’ve changed. Those in the MOJ have to acknowledge that sometimes it happens that people will be put away for things they haven’t done. Not only does this sentence not make allowances for it, but by it’s nature gives those no way out, and another reason it goes against all common sense.
Thanks for that, and the min-max sentences sound like a reasonable alternative, one we could cope with.
My friend also wasted 2 of the 3 years past his tariff, waiting for a parole hearing to tell them he wasn’t eligible to do the course they’d kept him in to do at his first parole hearing. He put himself on other courses while he was waiting but the parole board weren’t interested. It is so frustrating, and the parole boards are still way behind now as they were then, with parole hearings, so won’t bring them forward.
If you’re looking at Inside Time online I’ve had that problem before looking for things, not everything’s on it until it becomes a back issue and can be downloaded pdf, but as Brian says I think it’s the same as above. I’ve written to all those mentioned above but not Crispin Blunt yet, he’s next on my list.
As the government now want the public to be involved in ways to save money they should start by abolishing these sentences, which will be my suggestion when I find where to send that to.
For everybody’s information, when contacting people in the Government etc, my friend is in a D cat, and they’re sending IPP’s back to C cats because they can’t cope with the volume of them that have come through to them.
Also when it comes to home leaves to hostels, which most have to have, there are no spaces at hostels for them because despite them knowing how many IPP’s were in the system, no extra hostel places have been created for the thousands of IPP’s that will need them. Without home leaves they won’t be considered for release.
I don’t know how much hostel places cost the government but I’m sure money wouldn’t be available for the extra needed.
Just want to say to everyone on here – do not give up. The person I know with an 18 month IPP has had it overturned. Anyone with a less than 2 year tariff should get their solicitor to take it to the appeal court if at all possible – there have been 2/3 overturned in recent months – so if at all possible try the appeal courts if you can.
I intend to continue supporting the abolishing of the IPP as it remains an inhumane and barbaric sentence.
Brian writes: Thank you for these wise words, Mary. Keep it up! We have a new government which has long been making much more enlightened and liberal noises about civil liberties and the injustice of many of the previous government’s measures, so now may be the best opportunity for years to get some of these wrongs remedied.
Thank you Brian and Mary for those encouraging words. It means such a lot to know you are there for us. I cannot emphasise this enough. Bless you.
My letter is referred to above. It was written from our experience as a firm of IPP [?solicitors] and from research conducted by my colleague Lorna Elliott.
If we all write to our own MP and encourage others we know to write to their MP and, if you wish, send the MP a copy of my letter then we can put pressure on the Government.
There has been no response from David Cameron but there is to be a review by MoJ into sentencing policy. It seems to me that the only way to make this effort work is to address the issues of taxpayers’ money, effective sentencing and the “results” of IPP.
There is little possibility of getting an MP, especially a Conservative MP, to get all emotional about a “dangerous” prisoner being locked up for a long time.
Brian writes: I am most grateful to Michael Robinson for this useful background. The letter referred to is at —
I very much agree that the arguments used in the letter about taxpayers’ money, the effectiveness (not) of IPP sentences and the practical effects of IPPs are more likely to make an impact on, especially, a Conservative MP than more generalised arguments about the injustice involved, the impact on families, or the agony of uncertainty about when if ever the IPPer will be released. Those arguments do however remain valid and I don’t think anyone should be discouraged from putting them strongly to an MP, especially if the MP is Labour, LibDem (in spite of everything), or a member of one of the smaller parties. Mr Robinson’s suggestion that it could be useful to send to one’s MP a copy of his letter to the prime minister seems an excellent one.
Perhaps the most urgent need at this moment is to try to make sure that the terms of reference of the impending review of sentencing policy requires the review to include a review of IPPs. A major opportunity will have been lost if the terms of reference of the review excludes IPPs from consideration.
I intend to put an edited version of this comment, my response here, and the full text of Mr Robinson’s letter to the prime minister, on Ephems as a stand-alone new post — when I have time!
I’ve just been catching up. Drugs are not violence and cannot be classed towards the IPP – 2 violent offences. This is law so I don’t understand how it could have been passed.
My friend now currently 2 years over a 2.5 year IPP got his IPP based on a violent attack when he was 15 defending his mum against her boyfriend. The 2nd offence was attempted robbery when he was 30.
He was knocked back on paper in July 09 and oral in Oct 09. Next parole date is around Jan 11 although there appears to be yet another backlog. I daren’t mention to him about the problems at CatD (when he eventually gets there!) where he may be again treated as a lifer or sent back to CatC.
I did get a reply from Jack Straw over a year ago when I wrote to my local MP and it was brought up in the house. Jack Straw commented my friend was still a risk!!! Just wanted to say that because it can work to write to your local MP to address it.
I don’t think this government will be any easier to deal with. I’m waiting for them to settle in before I start again!
Good luck everyone!
Brian writes: Thank you for this, Suzie. It’s good to see that your efforts have been rewarded by getting a senior minister’s attention. For a similar and more recent success, please see Jo D’s comment below, and my response to it.
Mary, thanks for your continuing support, even though the person you know has had his IPP overturned, your knowledge and experience will be very helpful in keeping this highlighted with the government.
Copying Michael Robinson’s letter and sending it to an MP, does work as it got mentioned by Claire Perry MP for Devizes (Con) and responded to, fairly encouragingly, by Crispin Blunt – 15th June, House of Commons Oral Answers – Justice.
(Brian, would you be able to put in a link? [Brian writes: Link added. See my response and the text of the exchange below.])
So that should be encouraging for everyone to copy the letter to their MP so as many as possible know about it.
As for as I can tell the backlog with parole boards is now even worse than when they made changes because of the previous backlog, (exactly as was hinted at by Bob earlier), which also might be worth a mention, it all costs money!
There are so many inconsistencies with this sentence I think it’s always been a sort of ‘let’s make it up as we go along’ type of experiment.
I believe the PRT were going to publish something about the IPP sentence, if this is still going to happen it must be imminent?
Brian writes: Many thanks for this, Jo D. Crispin Blunt’s reply to Claire Perry MP on 15 June is indeed very encouraging, and shows that the new government is aware of the problem, so that’s a real triumph for whoever wrote to Ms Perry.
The exchange went as follows:
This does indeed demonstrate the usefulness of writing to one’s own MP, rather than (or as well as) to the responsible minister direct. Even if the MP doesn’t raise the subject on the floor of the House, as Ms Perry did, he or she will almost always pass your letter to the relevant minister with a request for material for a reply, and that will grab the minister’s attention more reliably than a letter sent to the minister direct, which may well be referred to an official for a stock reply without the minister ever seeing it. Crispin Blunt’s reply to Ms Perry (text above) will now be well worth following up in further letters to as many MPs as possible — as well as copies of Michael Robinson’s invaluable letter.
Well done everyone
Every IPP prisoner and every mother of, spouse of, sibling etc etc of an IPP prisoner should write a letter setting out personal circumstances and send my letter (see above) to their MP.
Prison Reform Trust’s report on IPPs will be published early July.
There is Hope
Keep the faith
Thank you Michael for your help in this.
A few things I add now to the letters I write are as follows,
1. With reference to Helga’s post above :
‘Just as an example it is possible that someone could have been sentenced to an IPP of a few months in 2005, but because they claim they are innocent – which they have every right to do – they will not be eligible for Offending Behaviour Courses, which is one of the essential requirements of a parole board, so could be kept in prison for the rest of their lives. This is punishing someone unduly for their right to maintain their innocence, and a waste of money (£45,000 a year each) as it achieves nothing.
2. From a much earlier post:
‘To be eligible for an Offending Behaviour Course a prisoner must have a reasonable level of literacy to read instructions, understand various scenarios and complete homework every week.
48% of prisoners have a reading level below that of an 11 year old, and 82% have a writing level below that of an 11 year old (figures from Prison Reform Trust). So many that are ‘waiting’ for courses aren’t eligible to do them because their literacy levels aren’t high enough. 20 – 30% also have learning difficulties. Is this a good use of public money to keep these in potentially for the rest of their lives?’
3. ‘All IPP prisoners need legal representation at every parole hearings at a cost of £1,500 each to the legal aid system, to which the previous government planned to make cuts to anyhow.’
4. ‘There is the additional cost for each IPP prisoner for staffing OMU departments, staff at the lifer sections of MoJ, cost of Parole Board members and Parole Hearings, extra work for probation staff in reports and supervision, hostel spaces etc. More than 90% of these costs are not incurred by determinate sentence prisoners.
All the many £billions already spent has only resulted in 75 being deemed suitable to be released ( figures at the beginning of 2010) in to the community in 5 years.
(I don’t know if anyone is in a position to cost out point No 4).
Hope this is helpful.
Jo D. I agree wholeheartedly with your additional comments.
Each letter to the MP should be personalised and subjective. I suggest sending a copy of my letter as it will save repetition of the general points. Your additional points should be included too by all correspondents.
However there is a danger of MPs receiving templated letters and thereby missing the point:
The cost to the country and the personal stories of those affected.
So far David Davies MP for Monmouth (not David Davis former shadow Home Secretary) and Philip Davies MP for Shipley have responded negatively ie prison isn’t costly and what about the victims. Philip Davies MP was the one who suggested Sky TV should be removed from the 4000 prisoners who have access to it as its a luxury. He also happens to think we don’t have a disproportionately high prison population compared to rest of Europe because our prison population represents 13:1000 crimes punished:crimes committed which is lowest in Europe (??!!) according to him.
The secret is Keep your letter simple; Keep your letter personal and Get Writing. Spread the word.
Thanks everyone. You have just motivated me even more. My MP, Jim Paice, Conservative, has just responded to an earlier letter of mine, having sent him a copy of Mr Robinson’s letter, offering to pursue our concerns directly with the new minister, so am writing my letter now. So it is working! Also, in the Independent Monitoring Board’s report, released last week for our local prison, Littlehey, (para 2.1.3 ISPs), it reads, ‘The Board is concerned about rise of IPPs (30% year on year), and for whom insufficient OBPs are available to meet parole requirements. These prisoners cannot reduce their risk as there are not enough programmes in place. When will the Minister review these IPP problems?’ Keep up the good work!
The following (if it comes out all right) was said in the House of Lords Debates, 15th July 2009 by Lord Thomas of Gresford.
Although it was supporting a move put forward by Lord Goodhart to abolish the IPP sentence then, it makes some good points about the whole background to the sentence, and questions why the focus should be on the offending behaviour courses anyhow, which is a good point.
I’m sure he wouldn’t mind being quoted, maybe in part, to support our concerns:
There’s at last a real opportunity to rid ourselves of a blot on our justice system — Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection, illogically abbreviated to ‘IPPs’. This is a largely unrecognised system of preventive detention. One of several reasons for the grotesque over-crowding in our prisons, and for the huge numbers of people per head of population whom we insist on incarcerating compared with anyone else in Europe, is that there are literally thousands of people in our jails who have had their punishment, and paid their debt to society, but whom we keep in prison, sometimes for years, because they can’t prove to a parole board that they won’t reoffend if released. (Could you?)
The new government’s ministers in the Department of Justice have already recognised that the present situation is intolerable. The need now is to make sure that the official review of sentencing policy, due to report by October, considers IPPs as part of its remit, and recommends their abolition. A new post on this blog appeals to everyone who is willing to help to rid us of this excrescence to write to, or email, his or her MP, urging support for IPP abolition and inviting him or her to press the Secretary of State for Justice (Kenneth Clarke) to include IPPs in the sentencing review and to ensure their early abolition. There is a lot of useful supporting argument and information in Ephems at —
Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) once more
including the full original text of my letter submitted yesterday to the Guardian, of which a severely truncated version is published in today’s issue. The post includes other key texts that could usefully be quoted to your MP.
Please respond urgently to this appeal! If you do, please append a comment to https://barder.com/2625 confirming that you have written accordingly to your MP, pour encourager les autres.
This is the 150th comment on my post of 3 August 2007, above, and the last. Comments on this post are now closed. Please continue to contribute your views, information, appeals and suggestions to the box for comments on https://barder.com/2625. And a big vote of thanks to all of you who have helped to make this thread such a constructive and moving forum on such a sad and moving issue. The fight continues at https://barder.com/2625.