The Guardian strikes two vigorous blows against IPPs

An editorial in today’s Guardian and an accompanying column by Simon Jenkins state with admirable vigour the unanswerable case against the vicious system of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs).  Both should be compulsory reading for anyone who cares about justice, or who has any lingering doubts about the affront to fundamental principle represented by IPPs.  Both Guardian pieces rightly lambast the Labour leadership of Ed Miliband (unfortunately confused with his brother in Jenkins’s column, a typo that must have Simon chewing the carpet this morning) and Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who happens to be my MP and a friend, for their cowardly failure to come out loud and clear against IPPs.  Presumably they are still intimidated by the instigators of IPPs, David Blunkett and Jack Straw, who don’t want their dismal ministerial records disowned — unless it’s the synthetic wrath of the Sun and Daily Mail newspapers that is frightening them into their lamentable defence of the indefensible.

Some of the comments on the Guardian editorial (“Sentencing: Bloodlust for life”) on the paper’s ‘Comment is Free’ website make sad reading, reflecting the fog of ignorance and prejudice that surrounds the whole issue of IPPs.  In reply to one of these, by no means the worst, I have added my own two-penn’orth of support for IPP abolition:

It’s sad to read the pedantic criticisms by the anonymous ‘syncretist’ of this powerful and cogent editorial, which makes an unanswerable case for abolishing IPPs. The ‘presumption of liberty’ is a pithy way of stating the principle that a person who has completed his punishment is entitled to be released unless there’s an overwhelming likelihood that he’ll be a danger to society if he is, whereas under the perverse logic of IPPs the onus is on the prisoner to prove that he won’t reoffend — an impossible requirement, as the editorial rightly points out.

‘Kafkaesque’ is an apt word for the dilemma described — where the IPP prisoner can’t convince the parole board that it’s safe to release him until he has taken a specified course, eg in anger management, but when he applies for a place on the course, he is turned down because he isn’t assessed as sufficiently dangerous to warrant a place on it! Kafkaesque indeed — and Helleresque too, as you say (a classic case of Catch 22). Also Alice in Wonderland. It accurately describes the nightmarish predicament that IPP prisoners who have paid their debt to society and completed the punishment imposed by the court are still likely to face — effectively a life sentence for an offence that no-one could possibly think deserves imprisonment for the rest of a person’s life.

Not a single penal reform organisation and not a single authority with experience of penal affairs, from former Inspectors of Prisons to the Chair of the Prison Governors Association, or from Liberty to the Prison Reform Trust, supports the retention of IPPs. Their continued use is an affront to justice and Labour’s opposition to their abolition is indeed shameful (and I write as a lifelong Labour supporter). Well said, Guardian (and also Simon Jenkins on the preceding page).

Brian Barder

IPPs are unjustifiably wrecking the lives of tens of thousands of people — nearly 7,000 IPP prisoners who have no way of knowing whether they will ever be released, and their families, partners and friends who dread the real possibility that they will never see their loved ones return to their homes again.  The system will be abolished if Parliament passes the relevant clauses of Ken Clarke’s reform Bill now going through its various stages.  Unfortunately the same Bill includes much more questionable provisions as well, including indefensible limits on legal aid and backward-looking proposals for new mandatory sentences for the most serious offences, in addition to those for murder.  Swallowing the latter may be the price that has to be paid for getting rid of IPPs, which must be the top priority.  If you care about justice and want to see the righting of a great wrong, please use every means open to you — blogging, Tweeting, Facebook, writing to your MP or a national newspaper — to urge everyone to read the two forceful pieces in today’s Guardian, and to use whatever influence you might have with the Labour Parliamentary leadership to shame it into supporting the abolition of IPPs, now at last in sight.

PS:  For more detail of the monstrous defects of IPPs, please see earlier posts on this website here, here, here, here and here — including the comments on them and links in them to yet more articles on the subject.  And having read all that, have a very happy Christmas.


6 Responses

  1. Sima Khan says:

    Hello everybody please please show your support for this march on 24th jan 11am. If less people turn up the government will not take this ipp mess seriously. You can see info on this on insdie times on the IPP update article where people give there feedback on the article. Please turn up. Also can Brian or  anyone advise me. My partner got his cat d in november 2011 and he is 5 years over tariff he has been told he won’t be getting transfered until july and he should be going for parole in november.He has no further course to do too. Is there anyone i can get help from to move him earlier than july please.i don’t think he can take anymore. Please advise. Thank you

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I hope it will be obvious from many previous posts on this blog, and from my responses to comments on them, that I strongly sympathise with the objectives of tomorrow’s protest march. But I have to say that I have serious doubts about its timing. Our first objective, I believe, must be to secure the abolition of IPPs so that this sentence will not be imposed again in the future. There is a good prospect that this will happen if and when a current Bill now before the House of Lords becomes law. The second objective must be to press for justice for prisoners currently serving IPP sentences. But if we press too hard, too soon, for the second objective, we may put the first objective at risk. I would therefore have preferred a postponement of the march from tomorrow to a later date, after the Bill has been passed into law. I’m really sorry to set out such a disappointing view.

    I’m afraid that I am not qualified to offer advice on individual IPP cases, such as your partner’s predicament. I am not a lawyer, and I have no special knowledge of IPP law and precedents. All I can suggest is that you look at the magazine ‘Inside Time’ (which you mention) and select one of the firms of solicitors which advertise in it to approach for advice. Many of these will give you valuable legal advice free of charge.

  2. Sima Khan says:

    Thank you for your reply Brian. I appreciate your hoensty. Where has everybody gone there used to be so many people writing on this website but everybody ahs disappeared. Im guessing there loved ones have come home. Good luck to everyone and hope everything is going well. Thanks Brian.

    Brian writes: Thank you again. I doubt very much whether all the IPP prisoners whose relatives have sent messages to this blog have been released. It seems likelier that campaigning and discussion have gone quiet while we all await the abolition of (future) IPPs for which the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) makes provision. The Bill is currently being processed in the House of Lords; when that House has finished with it, it will return to the House of Commons; and if it passes there, it will become law. The government will then have to fix a date for it to come into operation. All this will take some time — months rather than weeks — so much patience will be required, especially by current IPP prisoners and their families. Abolition of future IPPs won’t have any automatic effect on current IPP prisoners. But once abolition has become law, it will be the right time to open a new campaign, not against IPPs as such, because that battle will have been won, but to get justice for existing IPP prisoners. I’m fairly sure that this will happen, but that too will take time.

  3. Conrad asquith says:

    if it was not for Familys bobarding MP Lords , We obtained the Knowledge over the last 18 months regarding IPP barbaric Sentence It was down to the pressure WE ALL HELP to Apply, THATS WHY IPP is BEING ABOLISHED, By Actions Sending Letters To MP, Creating IPP Public Awareness , Govenment offer to review IPP AFTER LAWS have been passed ? A REVIEW 7 bleeding YEARS it has taken We havent come this far to settle on a IPP Review for Serving IPP, [” Stoking up controversy about how to deal with existing IPPs runs the serious risk that the government will be intimidated by the right-wing tabloids and their own right-wing back benchers into back-tracking on abolition of future IPPs. If that happens, we can kiss goodbye to any hope of a change in the present awful situation either for existing IPPs or for the future.”] Whats AWFUL IS THE 7 YEARS SUFFERING OF FAMILYS, DONT NO WHEN THERE LOVED ONE WILL BE COMING HOME, ? What does a Mother say to her young children WHEN they keep asking MUMMY When is DADDY COMING BACK HOME, Kids are suffering Our Familys , We Had House Of Lords Rally Last week 24th Jan , The Lords that didnt no about our IPP Familys Campaign DID after our rally, The shock on the Lords faces said IT ALL, NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT THIS CAMPAIGN, IPP serving 6 years out of a 18 month sentence, STILL in PRISON TODAY ? FACT, I would rather die trying than LEAVE our IPP To fight alone for another 2 years, ? To do nothing but to sit back and accept whats on offer is NOT a OPTION, We started this fight for Justice for ALL SERVING IPP, ? FACT, We DID NOT START IT FOR THOUS THAT WONT BE NOW GETTING IPP, ? FACT, IPP is now Due to it being ABLOISHED WE HELP THAT HAPPEN WE FAMILYS Started it for SERVING IPP, That was are goal We refuse to accetp that Government offer a IPP Review in Years to COME ? Which believe me wont happen, Over 5,000 IPP had parole Hearings ONLY 4% Released We FIGHT FOR THE OTHER 96% that did not get released, THATS WHY WE MUST CARRY On ? Come to far to give up now, If i have to i will do it alone, ARE YOU WITH OUR GOAL JUSTICE FOR SERVING IPP, We are all IPP familys together UNLESS YOUR Loved one is serving IPP YOU Wouldnt Have a CLUE How it is effecting ALL the family, Emotional needless suffering, WHY Dont we give the Children HOPE 2012 IPP YEAR OF HOPE, TRY and look at it from a family member view ? I am a released IPP Prisoner recieved 18 months tariff served 5 years i have seen this and fely the pain, many a silent tear over the years just wanting One Thing ? A KNOWN Release date to wipe away my Children tears on Visit, When i had to say i just dont No Kids when i will be Home, Been thbre done it got the T-shirt and mental scar’s to prove it,

  4. Although I can see Brian’s method in thinking, I find that I have to agree with Conrad Asquith – my partner is serving one of these diabolical inhumane IPP sentences, the pressure / mental & physical strain that this is putting on all of our family is really unbearable at times – I have had to take over the role of being a carer for his 65 year old handicapped aunt who really cannot grasp the concept of IPP – I really feel like I can’t take any more most weeks, I have to try to remain positive which is undoubtedly the hardest thing to do as I do not know what there is to be positive about, we haven’t got anything to look forward to, do not know when he will be home with us! My eyes are welling up writing this and it’s already been 2 years of suffering through this. I do not have any other family to support us or for me to go to for help or advice! Every time I speak to him on the phone it causes me such heartache hearing the doubt in his voice as to IF he is going to be released, then having to keep leaving him in the prison after every visit rips my heart open, then going home and having to try to explain to his aunt that we still don’t know if or when he will be home, the tears, the fear, the anguish, anxiety and stress is pure mental & physical torture. I was in a full time position in my employment when we had the trial and he was passed this dreadful sentence – I first had to take time off of work to attend the trial, I had pre-planned that so it wasn’t too much of a problem, but it hit me hard and I ended up off work ill for 2 weeks. The visit days always fell on a work day, so I had no choice but to book my annual leave 1 day at a time to visit him! Then when I really needed a few days off as a rest from work, I couldn’t have the time off because I’d used my A/L for visits. The longer it becomes with him stuck in limbo – the harder it becomes to remain strong & positive! That’s just merely my side of it – God only knows how much harder it must be for him trapped in there bot knowing if that will ever change or when – I spent 1 night in prison just because I did not have an address to stay at when I was bailed – THAT was bad enough for me & still remains embedded in my brain! I cannot just sit & do nothing – he cannot speak out & change anything! but I CAN – & I WILL!!!!! & I WILL NOT STOP UNTIL I AM HEARD – until we know when he will be home with me again!

  5. Bob says:

    Sima, Conrad, Amanda: This is to you all equally – but in the first instance to Sima, who fears that everyone has left this blog. Sima I left it about a year ago due to problems with my IMB chairman and the Governor of our prison. They didn’t think members of the IMB (Independent Monitoring Board)  – whose role is principally to monitor prisons – should be campaigning against IPPs or any other aspect of The Law as it stands. I on the other hand considered the IPP to be a disgrace to our legal system and a million miles from ‘the fair and decent treatment of prisoners’ the IMB’s monitoring is intended to achieve. However to save internal conflict I stopped blogging almost a year ago. But now, thanks to Ken Clarke’s bill, the end of IPPs is actually in sight,  and acknowledged to be so by everybody. So I now feel free to help where I can.

    The first thing I’d like to say is that in my opinion Brian’s note of caution is right. Anti-IPP campaigning in some form should never stop, but nor should it be allowed to threaten to de-rail the bill currently going through the Lords (LASPO) which will stop any further IPPs being awarded as soon as it becomes law. And that is the bird-in-the-hand situation we need to secure! Get a date for abolition, then work on freeing the 7000 or so still in prison – because once IPPs are abolished all sorts of groups and individuals will jump on the bandwaggon, saying how disgraceful they always were and pushing for the release of IPP victims, starting of course with those who are post-tariff. And I think that is realistic. Once IPPs have a bad name, abolition will be so much easier – especially since the 7000+ places they take up cost £40,000 each! 
    Conrad, I know that Brian, myself, several lawyers and other sympathisers who have written on here have no idea of the suffering undergone by you, IPP prisoners such as Sima’s and Amanda’s partners, and the hundreds of family members and loved ones to whom Brian has written personally over the years. I can only say I deal with men who, like you, are a long way post-tariff, and I can see the drastic wrong from which they are suffering. (Your own case sounds like one of the horror stories I described in my article on IPPs in Inside Time, August 2011, before the editor cut them to fit the paper.) But perhaps our different perspective can be helpful. 

    For example if you look at December 2011’s copy of IT you’ll see a picture of Lord Ramsbotham, the outstanding Chief Inspector of Prisons in the 2000s, saying exactly what he thinks about IPPs, under banner headlines in which he calls the sentence ‘An obscenity and stain on our reputation’. Former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf is also pictured,  condemning the under-resourced Parole Board for not being able to process IPP prisoners who might easily prove no risk if released. And so the campaign is actually continuing on the front page of  the prisons’ newspaper – with LASPO now in its sixth or seventh month in parliament, So not long to go, hopefully.
    Something else too. On p.40 of that same edition of IT there’s an article by solicitor Lisa Gianquitto entitled:’ I’m a D Cat, get me out of here! The author describes in detail the plans for the near-future transfer of D Cat IPPs to open conditions.
    In the first place it apparently takes 6-9 weeks for such a move to be confirmed – and then the waiting for a place starts. Unfortunately it can be ‘as long as a piece of string’ because there aren’t enough places ( and determinate and IPP sentenced prisoners have to share the places).
    But Lisa G puts the following points clearly ( which I hope might help you, Sima):
    1. post-tariff prisoners will take precedence over pre-tariff ones.
    2. Priority amongst them will go to those who have been waiting longest.
    3. Length of tariff itself will NOT earn priority.
    4. Transfers will not take place within eight weeks of a parole hearing (or you might miss your chance of seeing the PB).
    5. On a transfer it will be up to the sending prison to compile parole reports UNLESS there are special reasons why  the receiving prison should do so.
    One other thing – these transfers are being arranged centrally by NOMS (National Offender Management Service)- not by individual prisons.
    But my advice is to ask questions in your own prison. Don’t accept any answer you don’t like or trust. The prison service civilian staff are generally lovely people who are chronically over-worked in a system of which Lord Ramsbotham, in the article referred to above, says : ‘Today’s incoherent prison population management system prevents continuity of treatment……prisons have been choked with ever-increasing numbers who do not need expensive imprisonment.’
    So, as I say, don’t always accept what you’re first told if you’re not satisfied.
    And don’t forget to contact the IMB for help. Every prison has an IMB board.
     The author offers her advice to any post-tariff prisoners who feel they have had a bad deal or need help. (Lisa Gianquitto, Carringtons Solicitors, Freepost, MID 18045, Notingham, NG1 1BR. Tel: 0115 958 3472)
    I hope this has helped.

    Brian writes: Thank you very much for this, Bob. Your information is extremely useful and your advice is clearly very sound.

  6. Sima Khan says:

    Thank you for your reply Bob. I appreciate it. I will contact Lisa and see what advice she can give. Thank you again.