A comprehensive report on IPPs demands urgent reform
In a recent blog post (here) I recommended some daunting facts and figures on Indeterminate Sentences (IPPs) published earlier this month in a Prison Reform Trust ‘Bromley Briefing’. The text of the relevant section of the Factfile is here.
The Prison Reform trust has now (8 July 2010) published a 74-page report, Unjust Deserts: imprisonment for public protection [PDF], containing a full academic and practical analysis of the whole system of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection, the fruit of two years’ research. The report is a damning indictment of the system — its underlying philosophy, its inherent unfairness, and the fatal way in which it is mismanaged in practice. There are a number of conclusions and recommendations, the first of these being that the system should be abolished and determinate sentences substituted for indeterminate sentences still being served. You can read selected extracts from the report here, and a general summary of it here (“8 July 2010: ill-drafted IPP sentence leaves thousands locked up in bureaucratic limbo“).
The report spells out in detail:
- the way the system of IPPs was originally misconceived and carelessly drafted, resulting in consequences that were neither intended nor foreseen:
- how it is inherently unjust, relying on a mistaken belief that it’s possible to foresee an offender’s future behaviour in hypothetical future circumstances and on unsupported faith in the efficacy of prison courses to change behaviour while addressing only a small part of the roots of offending behaviour: and
- how the system is incompetently administered, grossly under-staffed and under-resourced, resulting in totally unnecessary costs to the taxpayer of something like £100 million so far, with costs steadily increasing.
One of many depressing features of the report is its revelation that with very few exceptions all the judges and psychologists who contributed their comments to the authors of the report were in favour of the IPP concept, some strongly so: apparently unable to see anything wrong with a system that abandons the concept of punishment being proportionate to the offence committed, substituting the proposition that a person who has served the punitive part of his sentence, but can’t prove that he will not reoffend if released, can properly be incarcerated for years, and indeed in principle for life, being harshly punished for future offences that he or she has not committed and might well never commit if released. This is risk aversion gone mad. It’s worrying that so many of our judges can’t see it: and almost equally worrying that the psychologists, on whose advice on behaviour management and assessment parole boards tend to rely, can’t see it, either.
My sole reservation about this otherwise admirable and comprehensive document is that it offers a number of possible options for reform, including amendments to the IPP legislation further to reduce the number of offences for which IPPs can be awarded. Even though the recommended first option is outright abolition, the offer of a less drastic remedy by further amending the legislation (which has already been amended in the same direction without producing any very significant improvements) and a third, even weaker, option of simply allocating more resources to the management of IPP prisoners and the provision of more behaviour management courses for them, seems to me to weaken the force of the case for abolition. The system is inherently unjust. No amount of tinkering with it can make it fair. Better management of it wouldn’t make it perceptibly less unfair — and it would cost far more money than is likely to be available in the present climate. Conversely, the report calculates — almost in an aside — that the cost to the taxpayer of keeping thousands of IPP prisoners in jail for years after they have served the punitive part of their sentences and are still incarcerated in preventive detention is probably of the order of “around £100 million” so far — and this grotesque cost is likely to go on rising if nothing drastic is done to stop the monster in its tracks. Now is the time to slay it. Please urge your MP now to tell the Justice Secretary that the IPP has had its day.
Update (25 July 2010): It has been reported that No. 10 vetoed a passage in Crispin Blunt’s ‘Churchill’ speech of 22 July in which he had planned to say something to the effect that he expected to abolish IPPs. In fact the videotape of the speech at http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/sp220710a.htm proves that he delivered the section of his speech on IPPs almost exactly as in the text on that web page. I think this is as promising as we can expect, given that he could not have been expected to make a firm decision on the matter in advance of the sentencing review. And at least we have the certainty now that IPPs will be critically scrutinised as part of the sentencing review, which is to report in the autumn. So far, so reasonably good.