More on Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs): still not abolished

The following very informative letter was published in the Guardian on Tuesday, 25 September:

Criminal justice and human rights

Indeterminate sentences for public protection were introduced by David Blunkett in 2005 for 153 specific violent or sex crimes of varying seriousnesss (Strasbourg judges attack ‘open-ended’ prison terms, 19 September). Judges set a minimum prison term (tariff) for each crime, but could not set a release date. This was the Parole Board‘s job after viewing how well the prisoner had “addressed his/her offending behaviour” – usually by means of cognitive behaviour therapy courses intended to “cure” anti-social or criminal behaviour. But Blunkett forgot to finance or staff these courses adequately and the Parole Board was notoriously risk averse, releasing only 4% of all IPPs awarded each year.

So queues swelled of prisoners going past their tariff dates. Numbers grew from 434 in 2005 to 4,461 in 2008 – when the law was changed to ensure fewer IPPs. But by June 2012 there were 6,078, with 3,531 beyond tariff – with no clue when they might be released. This causes extreme worry and anguish to both prisoners and their loved ones; children suffer, families disintegrate. IPPs were finally scrapped by Ken Clarke in May this year, but are now defended by his replacement, Chris Grayling – and judges are still awarding them. Shame on this country that it has taken the European court of human rights to condemn this legal lottery.

BK (name and address supplied)


The following letter was submitted to the Guardian on  the same day and not published:  

It’s a national scandal that it has taken seven years for the maladministration of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) to be declared in breach of the human rights convention (Strasbourg judges attack ‘open-ended’ prison terms, 19 September): that our English courts have failed to make such a declaration despite condemnation of this vicious system by every penal reform organisation and expert in the land, even including the prison governors’ association; that IPPs are still being handed down despite parliament’s decision to abolish them; that even now it’s only the way the system has been negligently and callously run that has been pronounced unlawful, not the inherently oppressive system itself; that Labour, which introduced the system in 2005, still lacks the courage to denounce it; that it took a Tory Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, to abolish it and to promise to reform the way applications for release by existing IPPs are assessed; and, perhaps worst of all, that Clarke’s successor, Chris Grayling, plans to appeal against the European Court’s unanimous judgment, thereby heaping further international obloquy on our failed justice system, instead of getting down to the urgent task of reforming it to meet our international and national, legal and moral obligations.

Brian Barder, London
25 September 2012



5 Responses

  1. wendi carson says:

    I just feel like they know its wrong but would rather save face then sort this mess out but by sweeping it under the carpet it wont go away. I think its now about time that IPP’s should be able to claim compensation for the injustice and the lack of courses. my partner had finished his tariff before they offered him his first course and it then took him to be moved into a private prison to complete a further ten now he is back in a Hmp he has had to wait eighteen months to start his eleventh course and now hopefully he has one more after that to finish then fingers crossed CAT D but im not holding my breath .

  2. Terry murphy says:

    My son has ipp and done less than some people and got ipp and they walk away with a few monthes u ask me they dont no what there doing .when handing out ipp . They made a big mistake as they handed so many out that all the services involved cant cope . So they are just left to rott and they move them from prison to prison for diffrent courses . Why dont they teach the people in these jails . As they will save money on traveling and its easyer for family to visit as . Some people can visit as they are so far away , any one no a good solictor that deals in ipp and prison law .thank u ??

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. A number of solicitors specialising in prison law, including IPPs, advertise in Inside Time. I suggest that you look there. If anyone reading this wants to suggest a solicitor, please send me the information in an email from this website (but not as a comment here) and I will pass it on privately to Mr Murphy.

  3. Helen says:

    I wonder if other families/friends of IPPs are aware of any extra pressure – for instance a withdrawal of enhancements – being put on their loved ones in prison to attend yet more courses?  Given a recent experience, I detect a hardening of attitudes within the judicial system to IPPs.  As if the current mess is their fault, and it justifies ‘kicking’ them about even more, in the vain hope they might ‘disappear’. It is very worrying. 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Helen. I’m not entirely clear what the judicial system (i.e. judges and magistrates) has to do with pressure on IPPs to attend more courses. I believe the statistics have for some time now shown increasing numbers of IPPs being released by parole boards but I haven’t seen any firm confirmation of that. Presumably the judges have no option but to continue passing IPP sentences in certain circumstances, until a date is set for bringing the IPP abolition clause of LASPO into effect. I wonder whether the change of Justice Secretary from a liberal to a hard-liner is causing any measurable change in the statistics?

  4. terry obrien says:

    my son is six years into a three year tarrif and and feels he will never be realeased is it possibale for him to be sent back to ireland where his family is as he is losing all hope of being free.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I think your son needs legal advice on the possibility of being sent to Ireland, although I can imagine many obstacles to this. Presumably he is serving an IPP sentence and since (as far as I know) Ireland doesn’t have an IPP system, there would be no obvious mechanism in an Irish prison for him to apply for release under English law, to be given a hearing by a parole board or to undertake any rehabilitation courses that a UK parole board might require. I’m sorry not to be more optimistic. A solicitor with IPP and other prison experience might take a different view.

  5. Clive Workington says:

    OK I read all the arguments, and especially for the families of the prisoners, I empathise with you.  However, I am a victim of an attacker that eventually received an IPP for a more serious crime than his attempted death of myself.  I have just learned that he may have been released and that he lives on the same estate as me.  Now, hypothetically, if he started drinking AGAIN and decided to carry through on his death threat to me stated by him at the time of his attempted crime against me – what protection does the law afford  ME if he does not care about prison, only that he carry out his mindless ‘threat’.
    My only protection, I guess I answer my own question here, is that he is on life licence. I only can live in fear that this monster will be monitored by the proper authorities. And if that should fail, ‘vim vi occurramus’.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. Like anyone else, I’m sure, I deeply sympathise with you in your plight. But there remains the question of principle: can we really justify keeping locked up in prison everyone who might commit a crime if released, even after they have paid their debt to society for past crime? The fact that this man has been released on licence shows that he has been subjected to a thorough risk assessment and found not to represent a serious risk to you or others (or indeed himself). Of course no such assessment can be 100% reliable and I can well understand your concern. It’s a classic case of conflicting rights and principles and there can be no ideal solution satisfactory to all concerned. Good luck!