Time to abolish Indeterminate Sentences (IPPs) [with 12 Oct update]

Last week I sent a letter about Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection to the Sunday Times.  I wrote:

Prison Overcrowding and Indeterminate Sentences
You report that the Justice Minister is pressing the Home Secretary to help reduce the cost and overcrowding of our huge prison population by releasing or deporting more than 600 foreigners who have served their sentences but are still locked up (“Clarke seethes at cost of foreigners in British prisons”, September 19).  Similarly, more than four times as many prisoners (some 2,500) have served the “punishment” part of their Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) but are still kept in jail indefinitely because of the inherent impossibility of proving that they won’t reoffend if released: and the number increases all the time. Releasing them forthwith, perhaps on licence, would remedy a grave injustice (especially if the whole pernicious IPP system were to be abolished at the same time) as well as saving a huge amount of taxpayers’ money and contributing significantly to the relief of the prison overcrowding that shames us all.
Brian Barder

I was glad that the Sunday Times duly published my letter — a version of it, anyway.  I can’t take a copy of the published version from the Sunday Times website, because Mr Murdoch has put it behind a paywall, and I’m not going to pay to see a newspaper website.  So here is a picture of my letter instead:IPPs: Sunday Times letter
I doubt if one in a hundred of the readers of the Sunday Times will have had the foggiest idea what I was on about, and even fewer of those paying to read it online will have had any clearer an idea.  So I decided to put it here instead.

It’s puzzling that the great injustice of IPPs has attracted so little attention or concern, certainly compared with other scandals such as control orders, abuse of stop-and-search powers, prolonged imprisonment without charge or trial, and sweeping powers to intercept our private correspondence.  How many British people know that we run a system of preventive detention in this country, under which thousands of men (and a very few women) are incarcerated in harsh penal conditions, indefinitely, not as punishment for anything they have done but because a few men in suits are scared that they might commit offences if they are released?  It’s surprising that neither the English courts nor the European Court of Human Rights have so far declared this pernicious system to be in contravention of the European Convention on Human RightsTom Bingham, thou shouldst be living (and still on the Bench) at this hour!

I have tried to make a tiny contribution to the effort to publicise the evils of IPPs by periodically posting pieces about them on my blog, such as here and here.  Some of these have attracted numerous ‘comments‘ from the families of people serving IPPs (almost as much victims of this cruel régime as the prisoners themselves) and from various experts in the field.  These exchanges of messages as blog comments have become a kind of clearing-house for advice and appeals by those most closely affected by IPPs. They make salutary reading by anyone who doubts the mental agony suffered by the wives, sisters and children of men who have been incarcerated for sometimes relatively minor offences, who have served the ‘punishment’ element of their sentences, but who can’t be released because they can’t prove that if released, they won’t offend again.  Many begin to fear that they will never, ever be released:  that they will grow old and die in prison, all for having had a tussle with a neighbour or some such offence.

Ministers at the Ministry of Justice have gone on record as recognising the injustice involved in IPPs.  All the major prison reform and civil liberties organisations have campaigned against them.  The Ministry is currently reviewing sentencing policy and will publish a green paper for discussion in November — just a few weeks’ time.  Is it too much to hope that the review will resist the temptation merely to recommend minor adjustments designed to make IPPs marginally less objectionable, and go instead for outright abolition of an inherently pernicious system?  If it does, what are the chances of even the most liberal of Conservative ministers facing down the hang-’em-and-flog-’em punishment freaks on the right wing of their party, and the screams of the tabloid hysterics, in order to sweep away this ugly legacy of a misguided Labour home secretary?

It’s a pity that my letter in the Sunday Times was so mangled that its point was largely lost.  Perhaps the responsible MoJ ministers might be shown this blog post by one of their Google-literate officials.  It might help a little to strengthen their resolve to defy the opposition of the know-nothing tendency, and to do what they already know urgently needs to be done.

Update, 12 Oct 2010:  I have put the following postscript on this post as now published in LabourList:

As a postscript to this post, I urge anyone interested to read the article in today’s Guardian at http://j.mp/cD6HbQ, reporting the forthcoming speech by no less an expert on prison policy than the president of the Prison Governors Association, who ‘will describe the situation of inmates serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) as “a blatant injustice”.’ Eoin McLennan-Murray will call for the “immediate release” of the 2,850 IPP prisoners ‘being held well beyond their “tariff point” – the minimum date after which the parole board can authorise their release.’ The Guardian notes that of the ‘6,130 serving indefinite IPP sentences, so far only 94 have been released.’
This is cast-iron evidence from the representative of those best placed to know what a ‘blatant injustice’ IPPs inflict on thousands of prisoners. All the penal reform and civil liberties organisations take the same view of IPPs. It’s really time to end this blot on our system of justice.


72 Responses

  1. Pete Kercher says:

    In the land that gave the world habeas corpus, this should be worse than shameful: it certainly flies in the face of 800 years of the history of justice and its gradual development as an intrinsic part of a mature democratic social and political system of cohabitation and government. But then it only takes one stroke of the pen – and a massive dose of general, TV-drug-induced indifference – to erase a sense of justice that has taken centuries to evolve.
    In the days when I lived in the UK, this would have been as alien as something from Mars. There’s truly something rotten in the Kingdom of Westminster.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Pete. Alas, I agree with every word you say. I may be hopelessly naive, but I really can’t understand why there aren’t hundreds of people on the streets every week protesting against this monstrous injustice. The cultivation of a general fear of crime by scare-mongering authoritarian governments, given spurious justification by a handful of terrorist acts that have nothing whatever to do with IPPs, and tamely supported by most opposition MPs terrified of being accused of being ‘soft on crime’, has dulled any general sense of outrage at the steady dismantling of our ancient liberties. But there’s a real opportunity in the coming weeks to claw some of them back, if Ken Clarke keeps his nerve and if David Cameron (and perhaps Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) are brave enough to back him up.

  2. kellie stacey says:

    i think its a joke when you,ve done ur course wot ur ask to do then they say they recomend them for parole and then they say u carnt be released they should put people in who no wot there dealing with and know about ipp sentences i think it should be aboilshed new rule for new goverment

  3. wendi says:

    I wish somebody could sort the IPP’S out with the amount of prisoners that are rotting in British prisons. My partner got an eighteen month  sentence back in 2006 and has completed the courses but cant put them into practice until released so what is he supposed to do. Its about time the government looked at this problem the families of these prisoners voted them in

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Wendi. Another case of a man given an 18-month tariff (i.e. the element of the sentence for punishment and deterrence, so clearly not for a terribly serious offence) four years ago, but still in prison 2-1/2 years after completing his tariff and still not knowing when he is likely to be released. Yet this kind of Kafka-like situation is inherent in the system. It’s vile. Let us hope that the sentencing review now taking place will recommend, when its report comes out next month, that IPPs be consigned to the dustbin of history.

  4. S says:

    What I find appalling about the situation concerning those protesting innocence and with IPP,s is that the Parole Board on the one hand are saying that a person protesting innocence will still be considered for parole  ,although they will have little to go on.Yet,others will say it is very unlikely they will be considered for parole ,for the the fact they have so little to go on.i.e any risk factors due to non-participation in courses ,which I understand are not proven to be totally effective. It is my view ,if the powers that be cannot abolish this sentence.then they should make it possible for those put in this ungodly position to be allowed to have an independent assessment to at least give those protesting innocence a chance to be assessed without compromising any chance of appeal against conviction.After all what is so wrong about that when someone outside the system is just as much qualified to assess as those within it?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. You point to some of the inherent anomalies in this deeply flawed system. Although an IPP prisoner who protests his innocence is not supposed to be disqualified thereby from being considered for release, it seems that in practice parole boards and prison officers submitting reports to paole boards tend to treat a protestation of innocence as a refusal to face up to the implications of the crime for which he has been sent to prison, implying that he may reoffend if released. This is an appalling Catch 22 situation for the prisoner who has actually been wrongly convicted — and obviously such people do exist, even if prisons have to work on the assumption that they don’t. I don’t see much prospect of establishing an independent authority to assess prisoners in this category: the only bodies equipped to assess whether a conviction is safe or should be quashed are the Court of Appeal and the higher courts, perhaps as a result of a successful application for judicial review; and I can’t imagine anyone accepting the need for another body tasked with second-guessing the decisions of the parole board. The only way to escape from all these anomalies and injustices, it seems to me, is to abolish the whole IPP apparatus.

  5. Patricia O says:

    Hear, hear!  Every day I pray we will receive some positive news about the abolition of these terrible sentences.  No-one seems to mention them in any media reports from the conferences.  This in spite of numerous letters from Brian – thanks again – and the recent document from Prison Reform Trust, ‘Unjust Deserts’. which heavily criticised the policy.  We have just received a letter from our MP, to say he is very alarmed at what is happening, and has written to Mr Clarke recommending the restrospective reform of IPPs. This would be for men who were given sentences of less than 2 years, and under the changes, probably wouldn’t now receive an IPP.   Our son is now approaching his 4th Christmas inside.  He was given just 18 months minimum sentence, so we thought he would only ‘celebrate’ one in prison.  It is an absolutely terrible situation for prisoners and their families and loved ones. 

    Brian writes: Thank you, Patricia. My fear is that the outcome of the sentencing review and the consultation that is to follow it will be the limited retrospective reform recommended by your MP (which would of course be welcome in itself) but nothing more, leaving the existing IPP régime intact. A quarter of a loaf would be better than no bread at all, but something far more radical is needed if the inherent injustice of IPPs is to be ended.

  6. S says:

    Patricia O,

    Can I just say I am so pleased you got a positive response .
    In bygone days I dare say that the responses would have been somewhat cloak and dagger style.More importantly.may I just say I know too well the anguish and distress this causes and I pray that there will be an end in sight for you all.These sentences are way too harsh in my view and the present governmenwit need to replace them with something which is agreeable to everyone.

    Brian writes: Thank you. In my view what’s needed is total abolition of the whole IPP régime. There should be no place in a civilised society in peacetime for indefinite preventive detention. It will be a crying shame if the government fails to abolish it — in which case the only hope will be for the courts, acting under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention. But that could take years and the outcome would be unpredictable.

  7. ObiterJ says:

    Yes, the IPP regime should be abolished.  When we discussed this earlier this year my M.P. (Mr Andrew Stunell) said that the coalition was “looking at it” but I have heard nothing since.  It is probably buried away in one of the many “reviews” which they are spending their time (and our money) doing.

  8. wendi says:

    Dear Brian
    I am so please that you are writing these article’s in the papers at last somebody can see the bloody injustice that they call an IPP sentence, even Jack Straw realised what a mess he had made in 2008 and changed sentencing to a minimum of 2yrs but the one big thing he forgot was the poor sods that got stuck with tarriffs under 2yrs ” had this conveniently slipped his mind or was he hoping that nothing would be said ” how wrong he was and now the families of these IPP’s are shouting its about time the government listened for a change. What we need now is a petition, a petition that the government cant ignore we also need Mp’s to talk to the IPP’s and get a feel of what its like to be stuck in limbo like this with waiting lists yards long to do courses. The government also want to look at the trainee pcychologists with their  “opinions ” they are a joke , what right have they got to use prisoners as guinea pigs what a waste of money they are.

  9. Patricia O says:

    Dear Wendi, My sentiments exactly.  I am sorry you and your partner are in the same position as we are with our son.  He was given 18 months in 2007.  Just like your partner, he was ‘assessed’ by a trainee psychologist, and that is when everything started to go wrong, in spite of finishing the recommended courses, and being described as a model prisoner by prison staff.  It has taken over 1 year for the Min of Justice to finally acknowledge he is not eligible for the psychologist’s recommended course.  One year of a man’s life.  And now, another year to wait for the next Parole Hearing – (which will probably be delayed due to long waiting lists).  It is hard to put into words how awful this situation is for him, and for us.  You mentioned petitions.  Unfortunately,  a previous contributor to this marvelous site of Brian’s did this earlier this year, (I think she managed to get 500 names), and she still got the usual reponse, to the effect that IPPs have to ‘prove’ they are no longer a risk etc. It is all rubbish, as they connot prove this without being given a chance, and released. Have you written to the NOMs Public Protection Casework Section, 8th Floor, Cleland House, Page Street, London Sw1P 4LN?  Our son’s case manager did knock off 3 months of his wait for the next parole hearing, after we had written appealing for common sense.  I know it is only 3 months, but it could be worth a try.  Meanwhile, let us try to be positive for our men.  Thank you Brian.

  10. Brian says:

    Please now see the update added to the end of this post, drawing attention to the article in today’s Guardian at http://j.mp/cD6HbQ, reporting the forthcoming speech by the president of the Prison Governors Association, who ‘will describe the situation of inmates serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) as “a blatant injustice”.’  This is a most encouraging intervention from an impeccable source.

  11. wendi says:

    After the article in the guardian lets hope that the government sorts this sentencing out and allows the prisoners out once and for all none of the prisoners are objecting to licence condition as far as i know

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Wendi. It’s not so much the Guardian article that may influence the outcome but rather the fact that the prison governors have come out so strongly against IPPs through their president. However I’m sure nothing will happen before the publication of the conclusions of the review of sentencing policy at the end of November, itself to be followed by a period of public consultation, at the end of which ministers will decide what to do. At that point I doubt whether they will be influenced by the wishes of IPP prisoners as to release on licence. They may be more strongly influenced by the cries of anguish from the Sun newspaper with its accusations that if ministers order the release of post-tariff IPP prisoners it will show that the government is “soft on crime”, allowing thousands of rapists and muggers fresh out of prison to roam the streets.

    Before we all become excessively optimistic, let’s also remember that most criticism of IPPs so far has focused on the length of time some — or rather most — IPP prisoners are being kept in prison after having served their tariffs. There has been relatively little root-and-branch criticism of the IPP concept itself. There may be a long way to go before we see the end of IPPs as a system.

  12. Brian says:

    Rosie, I hope you will read this.  You sent me a message from the website about your brother, who has been sent to prison.  I tried to reply to the email address that you gave but my reply was returned as undeliverable.  Here is what I tried to send you:

    Dear Rosie,

    I am sorry to hear about your brother. From what you say, it doesn’t sound as if he has been given an IPP (indeterminate sentence). The best advice I can offer you is to contact the Independent Monitoring Board at your brother’s prison and ask for their advice on his situation.
    There is an Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at every prison and you can find out how to contact your brother’s IMB by going to
    (just click on that). They may be able to advise on what your brother can do, such as what courses to apply for, to get the best chance of being granted release on licence or parole as soon as possible after he becomes eligible for it, probably not until he has served at least eight years. By all means send them a copy of this message (with a copy of your message to me) when you have found the relevant prison’s IMB email address, or their website.

    I hope this will be helpful.

    Best wishes

  13. wendi says:

    thank you for your response Brian I am not saying for one minute that the sentences should not be given out as in some cases it is necessary but will all IPP’S do double or in my partners case treble the sentence no  think not, there is a guy in Lowdham grange now that has a9 year IPP will he be expected to do 18 or even 27 year sentence no because he will have the time to do the courses, prisoners under 2yrs could not do courses at the start because the prisons did not do all the courses in one place so the prisoners were shipped out one course in one prison off to the next to do another after waiting months on the list, ( this was so badly thought out by the government) my partner has been moved 5 times so far and still has to be put on a waiting list for more courses ( i will point out that he has been totally willing to do and has learnt alot from them) the judge never stated what courses had to be done so the question is how many should be done within the tarriff for them to be released and also how much is the government going to put in to get these courses done and lower the waiting lists.

    Brian writes: Thank you, Wendi. There’s nothing automatic about release after doing any particular number of courses, I’m afraid. The parole board tries to assess the risk in each individual case, and the courses that the person concerned has done (including how he has performed when doing them) are just part of the evidence that the parole board takes into account in reaching its decision.

  14. Tim Weakley says:

     ‘..a period of public consultation..’
    Who, do you suppose, gets consulted among the public?  Have you ever been,  in this sort of matter – not in your public persona as a Kt. and ex-amb., but as a citizen-at-large  selected at random from the electoral rolls?  I never have.  In the present case, would  consultees be drawn from the prison population?  Their families?  Their lawyers?  Lawyers generally?  Judges?  Prison staff?  Governors of H.M. Institutions?  Civil servants in the Justice Department?  Some or all of the above?  And will the consensus be represented as ‘What the public – meaning the great mass of voters – thinks is right’? 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Tim. I think it’s up to all of the above, and anyone else with an opinion on the matter, to volunteer their comments when the Green Paper is published for discussion and consultation. I don’t think the government can be under any obligation to invite (e.g.) every relative of every IPP prisoner to express a view. They might invite the leading civil rights organisations, I suppose, and the home affairs or justice select committee of the house of commons, and a few others, to submit their reactions and recommendations, but apart from them, it will be no good sitting back and waiting to be asked!

  15. Patricia O says:

    Post Spending Review, there was a news article yesterday outlining the proposed Min of Justice cuts, which included:- ‘ – Speed up the risk assessment and parole of 1,300 inmates serving indefinite sentences for the public’s protection who were recommended to serve a tariff of two years but have been in jail longer’.  This was on http://www.u.tv/articles, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else.  Co-incidentally, (or not?), our son received a visit yesterday from the prison psychologist to start assessment.  I wondered if anyone else had seen the article, and knew anything more?  Thank you, Brian. 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. I am making some enquiries about it. The original and longer article, in yesterday’s Guardian, is at

  16. wendi says:

    To Patricia and Brian
    Would it be possible to cut and paste this article as i have been unable to read this

    Brian writes: You should be able to read the full original Guardian article from which this was taken by clicking http://j.mp/cl4qa0.

  17. Jo D. says:

    Have just re-found this site.
    I would be very interested to know what the above Guardian article really means. It seems quite specific with the 2 years and 1,300 mentioned.
    If some of these are still on waiting lists to do courses does it mean they still have to do them? Do they still have to go to a cat D prison and have home leaves – as the parole board usually require?
    If the risk assessment is only the same as a parole hearing and is just as risk averse, its not going to get them released much quicker. 
    Look forward to reading what you find out Brian.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Jo. I haven’t been able to find out anything about the basis for or interpretation of the Guardian article, I’m afraid, but I don’t think you can read into it any specific decisions about the future of IPP prisoners. The Justice Minister, Ken Clarke, has said that his policy of reducing the total prison population will not mean releasing any prisoners before they have served their sentences or tariffs, and that could mean anything or nothing in relation to IPPs. I doubt very much whether the Minister or his Justice Ministry officials have even begun to think in advance of the report of the sentencing policy review about such IPP details as requirements to complete x number of courses, or to have served in any specific category of prison or to have had home leaves, or whether those requirements are going to be changed. I’m sure that it would be wrong to read anything like that into the Guardian article.

    We should not, I think, let our expectations or even our hopes become unrealistically optimistic: the disappointment when the outcome proves to be far more modest could be all too bitter. According to yesterday’s Sunday Times, Ken Clarke is already running into considerable criticism from within his own party — and, as we know, from the right-wing tabloids — for his modestly ‘liberal’ attitudes to prison numbers. He won’t be able to do anything that will seem to confirm the suspicion that he’s “soft on crime”, so his freedom of manoeuvre is bound to be pretty limited.

    I hope you won’t lose this website again!

  18. Sima Khan says:

    My partner reecived  an 18 month tariff on ipp in 2005 and is still locked up. His last oral hearing was in nov 2007 and he has just this week finished the course they asked for. He has done over 5 years already. I do not undertsnd what to do or where to go. The parole board do not listen to anything you have to say. The reports are all cut and pasted by probation who cannot be bothered to get up to date information. I have no idea what is going to happen. Brian would you be able to tell me whether we will benefit from ipp’s being reviewed and if there are changes then how quickly will they take effect. We are suppose to be going for parole in April 2011 but i keep on hearing about waiting lists and am scared of the further delays this could bring. I have tried to do everything i can to have protective factors in place so parole board give my partner a chance but las time i made the same preparations but they didnt even listen to what i had to say. Their reasons were he didnt complete relevant courses. Do you have any advice for me. Thank you.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Sima. I’m afraid it’s much too early to forecast what is likely to happen to IPP prisoners as a result of the government’s review of sentencing policy now being conducted, or the cautious policy statements made recently by the Minister of Justice (please see my response to Jo D’s comment above, here). Equally, I’m not qualified to offer you any advice about your partner’s particular case, even if I knew all about the background. There is an Independent Monitoring Board in every prison and I can only suggest that you or your partner ask to see one of its members to discuss your and your partner’s worries and concerns in case he or she can give you advice on what if anything could be done to improve your partner’s chances of satisfying the parole board that he won’t re-offend if he’s released.

    I’m really sorry not to be able to be more helpful.

  19. Patricia O says:

    Yes, Jo, pertinent questions.  As I said earlier, our son is seeing the prison psychologist for an assessment as I write. It is the same woman who last did one on him17 months ago, and recommended a course for which he has at last demonstrated he is not eligible.  His probation officer won’t remove this course as an objective on his sentence plan, in spite of receiving a letter saying our son is not eligible using its own criteria from the Ministry of Justice.  So, really, we are no further, and now our son is having to go through all the old reports on him with this psychologist yet again, reasons etc for his offending behaviour, and he isn’t being allowed to move on.  He has been punished, has served his time, been a model prisoner, yet because he has challenged these people, (afterall he has a Masters Degree, so isn’ t daft), they don’t like it, and have got the upper hand in this stupid system.   He is approaching 2 years after the 18 month tariff expiry date.  Oh, and his probation officer sent him Christmas greetings in her last letter!  How insensitive is that? 

    Brian writes: Thanks, Patricia. Complaints about the role and influence of prison psychologists (some of whom appear to be ‘trainees’ and presumably not fully qualified) seem to be a recurrent theme in these disturbing comments. But clearly from the parole board’s point of view, they have an obligation to consider whatever evidence is available to help them to assess the extent of the risk that the person concerned, if they agree to release him, will re-offend, and a psychologist’s report is bound to be a contribution to that evidence. It is presumably for the parole board to decide in each case how much or how little weight to give the psychologist’s report in arriving at their decision. It must be the case that the importance the parole board attaches to the psychologist’s report in each case will depend in part on whether it is corroborated by other reports or seems to be contradicted by them. Unfortunately there is evidently a tendency for the parole boards to be very risk-averse and to err on the side of caution in their decisions, which means tending to reject applications for release rather than accepting the unavoidable risk, however small, of accepting them. This is another reason for regarding the whole IPP system as intrinsically flawed. But, sadly, I can’t imagine that the whole thing will be abolished any time soon.

    In the case of your son, it’s entirely understandable that someone with a Master’s degree, probably better educated than the prison officers and psychologists whose duty it is to assess his likely future behaviour, will be tempted to preserve his self-respect by “challenging” (to quote your comment) the authorities who have his fate in their hands. Whether challenging them is likelier to produce the desired results than swallowing his pride and cooperating whole-heartedly with them is something that only he (with your advice) can decide. Might those Christmas greetings which you dismiss as insensitive just possibly have been an implied appeal for cooperation instead of challenge? But obviously I don’t know anything like enough about this particular case to be able to say anything useful about it.

  20. wendi says:

    Patricia o :
    I can totally relate to what you are saying my partner was asked to do a course and they had already stopped the course but the probation have still insisted that he complete the  course where is the sense and to top it all the probation officer even added offences that my partner had never done and when questioned the probation officer said he had not written it , but he signed it! well who did write it then ? The main problem we have is with the trainee psychologists with their ” in my opinion” or ” this is a risk factor” when clearly they have no clue what they are on about the one we deal with even wrote a pile of rubbish just so that my partner fitted the criteria because she wanted to be right and possibly broken the data protection in the process my partners tarriff was up in March 2008 and he has been enhanced since 2006 and still they cant write anything good about him, the whole IPP stinks.

  21. Jo D. says:

    Thanks for your comment Brian.
    My friend is in a similar position also sentenced to 18 months when these sentences first came out and everything has been made as difficult as possible to progress.
    As others, some things that have been written about him have been completely false, but that appears to be the norm and quite acceptable.
    I think there are many now who are substantially past their tariff who had hopes of something positive coming from this government, and if nothing does soon, will totally give up trying to do anything. – if they haven’t already.
    I’d have thought they’d have taken some notice of the President of the Prison Governors Association, and I’m impressed he has spoken out against what is obviously morally wrong.

    As for consultations, I’ve noticed on the Action for Prisoners Families website they mention being in consultation with the government, it might be worth approaching them?

    Also, would making the changes to IPP sentences in 2008 retrospective need to go through Parliament as a green/white paper as it only relates to a finite number of prisoners? I don’t remember the retrospective  changes to the non violence/sexual offences given earlier release dates (those sentenced to 4+years) taking very long to be implemented.

    While I think the whole concept of the IPP is unjust, the most unjust part of it is for those who have less than 2 year tariffs, when it has been publicly stated by the previous government it was never meant for them – and yet they are still left forgotten about, to rot in prison. 

    Brian writes: It’s much too soon to give up hope of something good coming out of the sentencing review when it hasn’t even published its conclusions and recommendations yet. After it has reported in a Green Paper there will still be a period for public consultation before Ministers will consider what changes, if any, should be made to the system. There may be a debate in parliament. Then, depending on what Ministers decide to do, there may have to be fresh legislation, or some changes could be implemented by simple executive decisions by Ministers. All this will inevitably take some time. There’s no alternative to being patient, however hard that might be.

    I don’t know anything about Action for Prisoners Families, but I don’t see how it could do any harm to invite their help in submitting their recommendations on IPPs to the Ministry of Justice after the sentencing review’s recommendations have been published. If you offer to supply them with details of your own and your friend’s experiences, they might be able to use them to illustrate the arguments for change in the system. Why don’t you contact them first to see whether they would be able and willing to make use of your case history? (Or you could make a similar offer to e.g. the Prison reform trust, or Liberty, or any of the other organisations who have made clear already their worries about IPPs.)

  22. patricia burke says:

     I have only just read your article.My son is currently serving an ipp sentence. It is  very unfair and inhuman to give an ipp as there is no parole date, and  has no date to work towards, he is working on courses, attending group sessions but to what end? how long will he serve? 3-6-8-10 yrs? He was convicted for an attempted robbery,yes he did it and yes he pleaded guilty no-one is saying he shouldn,t be punished, but an ipp? There are murderers recieving 5-10 years. The system stinks! I am glad to see somebody is at last speaking up and trying to do something about it. Do you know when ipps will be reviewed, and what will happen to prisoners already serving them?

    Brian writes: Thank you, Patricia. I can only suggest that you read my responses to some of the recent comments above, which explain why I’m not in any position to answer your questions. In the first place, I’m not qualified in any way to offer advice, and secondly it’s impossible to say anything useful without having a detailed knowledge of the background to each individual case. Each one is different. And lastly, I have tried to set out in earlier responses what I understand to be the likely procedures after the current review of sentencing policy has published its report. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  23. Jo D. says:

    Thanks Brian.
    I’ve just re – read the article by the President of the PGA (link above),  he calls for the ‘immediate release’ of all those IPP’s who are post tariff. I presume he believes it to be legally viable for them to be immediately released?  This was his actual wording  in his original press release and wasn’t just an arbitrary comment  (even if it might not happen to this extent).
    I know it might seem like clutching at straws, but after the length of time past tariff a lot of people have done, things do get quite desperate and they feel they have been patient for too long.

    As for the prison psychologists guiding parole boards, they recommended my friend do another course after completing every course on his sentence plan, and the parole board agreed. The course had nothing to do with his offence nor anything in his history. When he eventually got officially assessed by the course manager – and told he didn’t fit the criteria, they were astounded he had been recommended to do it as even the process of being assessed was just wasting everybodys time. Would it not have made more sense to have the course managers opinion given to the parole board first – because of that my friend had to wait a couple of years for the next parole hearing to tell them that.

    It’s like being told they need to do ‘A,B & C’ to be considered for release, they do that and are then told by a parole board that actually thats irrelevant they need to do ‘X, Y & Z’ instead. Then after doing that at the next parole hearing that’s irrelevant so they’re told ‘there’s not enough evidence’, but aren’t told what they need to do to provide enough evidence, so are kind of in permanent limbo. That’s the reason for a lot of frustration because despite complying with the requirements to prove they will never commit an offence again (which is in reality impossible), it is always changing and no credit is given for anything they have done.

    We are lucky we have an excellent probation officer with many years of experience, but she is very critical of the recommendations by psychologists and parole boards which are irrelevant and nothing to do with risk factors. She believes my friend should have been released years ago and as she will be the one supervising him and responsible for him on release, her opinion should count for something.

    Brian, was it Andrew Bridges in his condemnation of the IPP systemwho said that the chances of any one of these IPP’s committing another offence was 1 in 60, so the other 59 are kept in for nothing? 

  24. Sima Khan says:

    Thank you for your reply Brian it was much appreciated. I have been waiitng for so long to get answers that now any website i try to get as much information as i can. I dont know where this sentence is going to take ipp prisoners and their families. The truth is the Lords and MPs and anybody else concerned do not care about what really happens with ipp’s because they are just offemders and they should stay in prison. Maybe they should speak to families and see what turmoil and heartache this pathetic sentence is cauisng all of us. I just cannot belive we are living in England and such injustice is taking place without any of the people who are maing these decisions  noticing what any of us is saying. Its just very sad.

  25. Brian says:

    Because of the heavy volume of comments about IPPs and requests for advice about individual IPP problems, I am unable to respond to each individually as I have sometimes been able to do in the past.  I hope friends and relatives of IPP prisoners will continue to write comments here about their experiences and problems:  it’s always possible that other visitors to this website might be able to respond with helpful tips and advice.

    Most of the enquiries and requests for advice in comments on this blog have already been answered (to the extent possible) in responses to earlier and similar comments.  Please by all means post your comments and questions but first please read through the earlier comments here (above) and at https://barder.com/2625, and especially at https://barder.com/696#comments: you may well find that there are responses and information in one or other of those places that are relevant to your particular case.

    You can be sure that I will read all comments posted here even if it’s impossible for me to respond to each of them individually.

    Good luck!


  26. Patricia O says:

    I just wanted to thank Brian for all the invaluable and individualised advice he has offered in the past. It is difficult for families to remain positive, but for our loved ones, we must try.  Good luck everyone out there, and be strong!

    Brian writes: I think that if this forum does any good, it’s mainly by providing a place for people affected by IPPs to share their experiences, exchange information and suggestions, and see that they are not alone in wrestling with their problems. Some invaluable advice has been provided by people with inside knowledge and expertise which many of those affected would not have had access to in any other way. It has also been possible sometimes to get some publicity for the injustice inherent in IPPs through letters and articles in the press. In a small way all this may have encouraged the decision-makers to acknowledge that IPPs are unacceptable and must be reformed — or, ideally, abolished. I hope all concerned will continue to contribute their experiences and suggestions to this blog. We must all certainly continue to do what we can, however modest it might be, to get this blot on our justice system removed.

  27. Jo D. says:

    Patricia O, referring to one of your earlier posts, who did you contact at the Ministry of Justice to find out what the criteria was for the course they wanted him to do?

    Brian, thanks for your help and guidance. It’s good to have a place to let off steam with people who understand, and I’ve been amazed to find there are lots of IPP’s on short tariffs who have also found it almost impossible to move forward. I do hope something good comes out of the review, it is difficult to remain positive but for people suffering from this, knowing they’re not alone is a help.
    Brian, also some of the technical part of posting links is beyond me, so I hope you’ll be on hand if necessary?

    Brian writes: Of course I will, Patricia.

  28. wendi says:

    thank you Brian for taking the time to read our frustrated messages and for the support that you give to all, please keep writing the articles for the papers and thanks once again for your support.

    Brian writes: Thank you for these kind comments. I’ll certainly continue to do what I can, although in truth it doesn’t amount to much.

  29. wendi says:

    Has anybody read the Guardian yesterday about the Prisoners left in limbo ?
    has anybody got any comments on this article?

    To Brian Any help is better than no help I feel now that im not on my own any more 

  30. Jo D. says:

    Wendi, it’s on Brian’s latest post – ‘Three broadsides…’ 

  31. Patricia O says:

    Hello Jo D, did you receive my response about course criteria?  I have done one, but cannot see any evidence on here.  I shall do a copy, if you didn’t. Best wishes, Patricia O

  32. Sue A says:

    Hi everyone just wanted to add my support to everyone who is affected by ipps.
    My son was sentenced in 2005 he received a tariff of 21 months and is still in prison. We are trying now seeking advice on appealing against his IPP  we are not sure what will happen with this, his solicitor is trying to put a case together and then asking a barrister for his/her opinion, we truly believe he has nothing to lose by this.
    I found this blog last week and it does bring a slight comfort knowing others too are fighting this unfair prison sentence and that I’m not alone.
    Thankyou all for sharing

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Sue. Perhaps someone reading this here might be able to help. Good luck with the appeal, if the lawyers agree that there are grounds for it.

  33. Jo D. says:

    Patricia O,
    No I didn’t receive your response about course criteria, I would appreciate a copy.

    If you have any problems, contact Brian I’m ok about him giving you my email address.
    Hope you and your son are managing. 

    Brian writes: I’m afraid I have no record of any comment about course criteria.

  34. Patricia O says:

    Thank you Brian for checking.  I will try again!  Hello Joe D, what he did was write to all the prisons he knew did the course, asking for their criteria.  When it was obvious he didn’t meet this, he wrote to the Case Manager for his prison, (if you don’t have a name just address it to Case manager, name of prison, NOMs, Public Protection Casework  Section, 8th Floor, Cleland House, Page Street, London SW1p 4LN), asking for reconsideration.  The Case Manager accepted the reasoning, and took off 3 months to his Parole Heaing, and stated the reason ‘as you are currently ineligible for the course ….’  However, his Probation Officer now insists the course remain in his Sentence Plan, so we don’t know what will happen now.
    Meanwhile, sorry, Sue A, to read about your son’s experience.  We are in the same situation with a solicitor,  and barrister who is considering the merits of an appeal against the IPP.  I just wish it didn’t take so long.  I am glad you have found this site though.  Good luck!  Best wishes, Patricia O

  35. Jo D. says:

    Patricia O,
    Thanks for that, how did he find out which prisons ran the courses? Is there a MoJ website where we could find out? Sorry for the questions.

    Sue A,
    Glad you find this blog a comfort, have you find Brian’s link to similar earlier  blogs about IPP sentences?
    There are a lot of us who have people serving short tariff IPP’s, given very early on, who are still in prison, many years past their tariffs,  and still struggling to know what they have to do to convince a parole board – who seem to be even further behind with parole hearings now than they were a couple of years ago.
    Best wishes for your appeal. 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Patricia. Here is a list of the most recent items on my blog about IPPs:







    In many cases the comments written by other people under my original post or article have the most revealing and useful information.

  36. Sue A says:

    Many many thanks for all your best wishes, I am slowing working my way around the site but all these links above are a great help. Thankyou Brian.
    My son was due for a  parole hearing in feb 2011 but it has been delayed till sept 2011, I contacted his solicitor to put in appeal and I contacted his offender manager to contest this and my son seeked advice from IMB and has a result his parole hearing is going ahead feb 2011,( fingers crossed).

  37. Patricia O says:

    Dear Jo D, re your question about which prisons run the courses.  Our son will pass on the info when next he phones us, and I will post details here ASAP.  Best wishes, Patricia O

  38. wendi says:

    My partner was supposed to have a parole hearing last may but because the prison cant or wont get their finger out and complete the reports we are now looking at sometime next year. What right have these people to hold back like this? In january my partner will have been in prison 5 years .

  39. Patricia O says:

    Hello Jo D, about the courses, the Offending Behaviour Programmes Unit, Room 712, John Islip St, London SW1P 4HL could be the best start. The number given to me  for them by our son is no longer obtainable, as I have tried to phone it to check for you, so hopefully the unit is still there.   Alternatively, Francesca Cooney at the Prison Reform Trust, francesca.cooney@prisonreformtrust.org.uk is always very helpful.  The HMP general website also says information should be available through the Psychology Department at the prison where the person is currently.  Our son gave me yet another number, but unfortunately that was no longer obtainable when I tried to phone it to check!  Talk about shifting sands.  Good luck.   Best wishes, Patricia O

  40. wendi says:

    My partner has just found out today that he is up for parole in January, I dare not build my hopes up but will have everything crossed.

  41. Jo D. says:

    Thanks Patricia O, I will try writing as the numbers keep being unavailable. As you say ‘shifting sands’, throughout the years on this sentence the ‘rules’ for IPP’s seem to change from one month to the next and are often contradictory, which is why no one seems to ever know what’s happening.

    Wendi, fingers crossed for you for January, but I really hope this sentence is abolished soon in particular for short tariffs, because it would go some way to them admitting it should never have been implemented in the first place and that all the suffering it has caused was totally unnecessary.

  42. wendi says:

    Thank you Jo D
     We need all crossed as the trainee psychologist and offender manager are not even recommending Cat D or release can you believe that even after 5 yrs. We will have to keep fighting for something  to be done because if we let our gaurd down they will once again forget the IPP’s that are years over their tariffs.

  43. Patricia O says:

    Good luck Jo, (please let me know if you get a sensible response), and also Wendi for your partner’s parole in January.  He is in exactly the same situation as our son as regards the negativity of the trainee psychologist, and offender manager.  Is he in a Huntingdonshire prison, by any chance?  Patricia O

  44. wendi says:

    No Patricia he is in Lowdham Grange Nottingham. Does your son’s psychologist play mind games? say one thing and write a report about another. My partners psychologist is a young woman that cant be wrong about anything and you cant challenge her because you are a prisoner and the offender manager hangs off her every word ( sad) he hasnt got a mind of his own reminds me of a little puppy. We have had to pay the £10 just to find out what she has been writing only to find out she has made at least 4 serious errors and then to be told that she cant wait for the parole hearing so she can put my partner down some more. Cant believe the prison service employ people like this .

  45. Patricia O says:

    Hi Wendi, Yes, it is bad.  What scares me is that, way down the line, from judicial ‘experts’, barristers, judges, etc,  who are educated, and professionally-trained, we have trainee ‘girls’, with probably few qualifications, and hardly any forensic experience, who have been given such power in the IPP system, to write damning reports on men, years older, and possibly ruin their lives, and the lives of their loved ones. Our son’s offender manager maintains she has the authority to insist a certain offending behaviour course remain on his sentence plan, in spite of being told by a senior Case Manager at the Min of Justice, that our son is not eligible.   She thinks he is having ‘offence-related thoughts’!  I am sure anyone reading these messages will not believe what we say.  However, I have written proof of everything I have said. Who gave these people the right to be so negative about our loved ones?  Shouldn’t they be working with people, encouraging positive progression through the System?  Instead, they are making men angry and resentful, and dividing families.  It is so wrong.  Our men have served their ‘punishment’, and deserve a chance to prove they can behave – outside prison, in the real world.  This is like an experiment in behaviour modification, and it is terrifying.  We saw a production on Saturday of George Orwell’s 1984, and the ‘thought police’ are with us now in 2010.

  46. wendi says:

    Hi Patricia I too have proof of what i was writing about also and have put complaint after complaint about this girl but she likes to swan round the prison making unprofessional comments to get a response then use it as a ” RISK FACTOR” in their opinion, and because both my partner’s parents died within 8mth of each other him talking to me is also a risk factor. How bad is that?

  47. Jo D. says:

    I have never heard of anything positive being written by prison trainee psychologists, everything is negative. Yet in report writing outside of prisons things that are written are expected to be balanced.
    I think I’ve read that these trainees are not members of the British Psychological Society so are not bound by their code of ethics, but it might be worth writing to them anyhow for their views.

    I know risk factors can be based on things that can’t be changed, such as:  lack of schooling, having been in care, having no family around – they can’t reduce these risks yet are judged on them, and as IPP’s effectively punished for them by being kept in prison longer.

    I know solicitors can ask for an independent (qualified) Psychologists report, but not sure if it can still be funded from legal aid with all the cuts.

  48. wendi says:

    Hi Jo D. Yes independent psychologists reports are still funded from legal aid  my partner had his interview done yesterday , we are just hoping that we can use this at his parole.

  49. wendi says:

    HI ALL
    has anybody read the times I dont know if it was saturday or sunday about the green paper and Ipp’s I have tried to google the article but my computer kept freezing has anybody got a link to this please

    Brian writes: Thanks, Wendi. There was a similar article in Sunday’s Observer, which you can read at
    I understand that there was also a report on the subject in Saturday’s Times, but as we now have to pay Mr Murdoch for the privilege of reading his newspapers online, I can’t give you its URL. (Thanks to Lorna at Emmersons Solicitors for this information.)

    Quite what these forecasts of what’s supposed to be in the sentencing review report will mean in practice for the future of IPPs it’s impossible to say, even if the forecasts turn out to be accurate. The hopeful factor is that the Justice Secretary seems determined to reduce the numbers in our prisons by several thousands by 2014, and one obvious way to achieve that would be to ensure that far more IPP prisoners are released as soon as possible after they have served their tariffs, provided that they are not obviously a danger to society; but I doubt if it’s realistic to hope that such releases will be anything like automatic. Nor, I’m afraid, will even this most liberal of Conservative ministers be likely to go so far as to abolish IPPs outright, although he may well try to reduce significantly the number of IPPs awarded in future. But all this is only guesswork. Let’s see what the review actually says when it’s published.

  50. wendi says:

    Thank you for the information .