On the fate of prisoners now indefinitely incarcerated as IPPs

A government Bill, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (‘LASPO’), now going through parliament aims to replace the infamous system of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection or IPPs, a legacy of Mr Blunkett’s tenancy of the home office, with ‘tougher’ determinate sentences for various very serious offences.  Replacement of IPPs won’t, however, be retrospective.  Nearly 7,000 IPP prisoners are currently adding to the grotesque overcrowding in our jails, and more than half of them have served out their tariffs and ought, in justice, to be released unless in a few exceptional cases it can be demonstrated that they represent a genuinely serious risk to the public if set free.  The LASPO Bill makes no direct provision for these.  But we now have a valuable statement of the position from an authoritative source.

The following letter from a senior official at the National Offender Management Service, stating the government’s policy on existing IPP prisoners following the ‘reform’ (or replacement, or abolition) of IPPs under the LASPO Bill currently going through parliament, is important, cautious but generally encouraging.  [Hat-tip: Mr Robinson of Emmersons Solicitors and the Facebook IPP Campaign website]:

Dear Mr Robinson

Thank you for your e-mail of 22 January about the indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

You ask what is happening to speed up the release of post tariff IPP prisoners and what will be done to ensure post tariff IPP prisoners are treated fairly when the IPP sentence is reformed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) Bill. On 26 October the Government tabled amendments to the LASPO Bill which will reform sentencing for dangerous offenders. We will replace IPPs with a tough new regime which will see more dangerous criminals given life sentences, and others spending long periods in prison and being supervised for long periods after their release. Prisoners currently serving an IPP sentence will not be released unless the Parole Board authorises it.

However, there is concern that those currently serving IPP sentences should be supported in progressing through their sentence and reducing their risk. We will be using our best efforts to improve the progression of these prisoners through sentence, including improvements to assessment, sentence planning and delivery, and parole review processes. We continue to monitor outcomes to ensure further improvements in this area.

In the Sentencing and Rehabilitation Green Paper last year we raised the issue of whether the Parole Board’s test for release in these cases was the right one, and this is a question that we will explore further. Our legislative proposals also give the Secretary of State a power to change the release test used by the Parole Board for IPP prisoners and prisoners serving the new extended sentence. We plan to consult on whether the current release test for IPPs and the new Extended Determinate Sentence ensures effective public protection while allowing offenders to demonstrate that they can be safely managed in the community.

Yours sincerely,
Polly Churcher
ISP Policy Lead
Public Protection Operational Policy Team
NOMS Offender Management & Public Protection Group
Ground Floor, Grenadier House 99-105 Horseferry Road London SW1P 2DD

For multiple statements and examples of the giant miscarriage of justice represented by IPPs, please do a search for ‘IPPs’ on this blog, including for the most recent (here).  Thanks to an enlightened Justice Secretary, it looks at last as if IPPs are on the way out, whatever misgivings we might have about some of the measures proposed to replace them.  It’s good to know from Ms Churcher’s letter that if and when IPPs are replaced, the fate of those serving IPPs when LASPO bec omes law won’t be forgotten.  It would be a gross denial of justice if any significant number of IPPs were to be left languishing in prison well beyond their tariffs, their release delayed by mainly bureaucratic factors.  Polly, we look to you to make sure that not only justice is done to these people, but also that justice is done briskly and humanely.

Brian

8 Responses

  1. Conrad asquith says:

    Ipp Prisoners Familys Campaign
    Mr Brian Baber, is a very clever man ? Not doubting That one bit ? ANd Thank you for years upon Years defending Justice, But i would like to see his personal views IF one of his sons ? were serving IPP Would he stick with that advice, ? If the shoe was on the other foot, Different ball game when your loved ones are serving IPP maybe ? maybe Not, I would rather try and fail than not try and fail any way At least we can look oue selves in the mirror and say I Tried, ? I personal Believe We WILL never have a better chance than we have now? We have the tiger by the tail and not letting it Go ? Untill i find my glass’s , To do nothing when we have ONE chance THE Next Criminal Justice Bill ? Act could be 3/5 years away ? Do we take what we have ? Offer of Parole release lowing the test ? Or go for broke, and go the other way ? All i no is for a fact there is now over 6,000 Prisoners on the waiting List for a oral parole hearing AND List will only get bigger ? cant go down So Unless they deal will delays nothing will change 18 months min for parole hearing ? Decision are hard, I dont want to ba a campign on face book only action group that talk i would like Both Rally public awreness and seek independent lords to vote down ken clarke bill Unless he agreess retropective ipp law for all then they will vote his Bill We have a chance ? Rock The IPP Boat my IPP Sentence goal and aim ? We want to sink the B*****D IPP Boat for ever, That just my opinion It is better to try than do nothing and end up with nothing If you start with nothing You get nothing ? We we have something and will fight for IPP Freedom THIS Year, We Dont want a Government word ? If we dont rock the IPP Boat THEY MIGHT give us something in years to Come / U-Turn Comes to mind Well we ipp prisoners familys campaign are not For U=Turn, We have one goal IPP Release dates Law NOW, Eual in Law, fight goes on untill our IPP abolishment laws apply’s to all SEVING IPP, Ken Clarke shove your offer up your fat arse, we dont want Freedom in YEARS We WANT IN NOW, Freedom for IPP AT Tariff END, No Deals We want Laws Not broken prommiss’e in years to come, WHAT DO WE WANT ? FREEDOM, WHEN DO WE WANT IT NOW ? ,
    We are all have opinions i would like to disagree with what you have said, dont up set the Lords ? Its Down to them shit that passed IPP in the first place ? Thats what happens when we dont get at the LORDS , Rock the boat we intend to Sink the IPP Boat, xx thanks hun for that link, where is my glass gone now,
    We will take on board what he says, as we dont wont to lose what we have ? I dont believe we have anything just a word that in the future IPP laws for serving prisoners will be taken on board it has taken us 7 years of struggle to get here, We cant do nothing as nothing gets us nothing ?

    Ipp Prisoners Familys Campaign
    IF ? We did NOT Start this Ipp campaign on Face BOOK, 18 months ago IPP Law would not be getting Abolished in April 2012 ? FACT, With OUT IPP campaign groups, Government would have carried on REGARDLESS ? FACT, IPP wouldnt be abolished ?

  2. Sima Khan says:

    YES CONRAD I AGREE WITH YOU. UNTIL YOU HAVENT EXPERIENCED THE IPP YOU CANT KNOW HOW PAINFUL AND SOUL DESTROYING IT IS. WELLDONE FOR KEEPING UP THE CAMPAIGNS AND MAKING SURE YOU AND OTHERS WERE BEING HEARD IN SOME WAY. I AGREE IF WE JUST TAKE WHAT THEY OFFER WE WILL BE STUCK FOR MANY YEARS TO COME TO HAVE ANY CHANGES FOR SERVING IPP’S. I RESPECT YOUR HARD WORK AND THANK YOU. MY PARTNER WAS ON A 18 MONTHS TARIFF BUT HAS SERVED 6 YEARS AND 5 MONTHS NOW. HE GOT HIS CAT D IN NOVEMBER 2011 AND HAS BEEN TOLD THERE IS A 6-9 MONTHS WAITING LIST TO TRANSFER. HE HAS NOT BEEN ASKED TO DO ANY FURTHER COURSES JUST DO TIME IN A CAT D. BUT NOW HE HAS TO WAIT AND WASTE MORE TIME UNTIL HE IS MOVED WHICH AT PRESENT WE ARE LOOKING AT JULY BUT HAVE BEEN TOLD EVEN THATS NOT DEFINATE. THEN WEHN HE IS MOVED HE WILL HAVE TO DO 12 MONTHS THERE . THIS IS THE WORST SENTENCE THEY COULD HAVE EVER BROUGHT AND I HOPE THE PEOLE AT THE TOP CAN COME OUT OF THEIR COSY WORLD AND SEE WHAT WE ARE LIVING THROUGH EVERYDAY JUST BECAUSE OF THIS IPP. WAIT WAIT WAITWAIT. BUT YOU MUST NOT GET ANGRY OR UPSET OR STRESSED ABOUT THE WAIT AS THE PAROLE BOARD WILL NOT LIKE TO HEAR THAT AT YOUR NEXT HEARING. THANK YOU AGAIN CONRAD.

  3. Helen says:

    Hello Sima, Brian and all, Yes, there are many like us going through this nightmare with IPPs.  Our son is now almost 4 years past his 18 months sentence. His last parole was nearly 3 years ago. Now the psychologist – they have a lot to answer for in all this mess – have recommended yet another course, which in effect, condemns him to a further year in prisdon att least.  Our son is pressing for an oral hearing, and intends to fight this. But I am not optimistic.  No-one can know what it really is like, not knowing when someone is going to be released. Everytime I open my son’s wardrobe, and see his clothes forlornly hanging there, I despair of ever seeing him wearing them again. We are in our late 60s, so I am wondering if we will even still be here, when he is finally released. He has done everything he can, and has had no ‘bad marks’ since he went to prison.  We support and visit every fortnight, and are trying to keep his spirits up, but it is difficult.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Helen. I’m very sorry to see that things are no better than when you last posted a comment here. The injustice and the uncertainty must be unbearable. I wonder whether there’s anything that a good solicitor specialising in cases such as your son’s could do to speed things up and to challenge the constant risk-averse buying of time and avoiding the responsibility of making a decision by constantly recommending yet another course? You probably have good legal advice and support already, but if not, it might be worth a try.

    The LASPO Bill, which includes provision for replacing IPPs in future and also for changing the criteria to be used by parole boards in determining applications by IPPs for release after serving their tariffs, is taking an interminable time to wend its way through parliament, but it looks as if it will eventually become law. When it does, I expect the Ministry of Justice to make a real effort to speed up releases of post-tariff IPPs and your son, being already almost four years past his tariff, ought in principle to be among the earliest to benefit from this. So don’t despair, even though everything is taking so agonisingly long. Good luck!

  4. Martina says:

    The IPP is one of the most barbaric sentences EVER to be passed.  How can a prisoner have a goal to aim for when there is no light at the end of their tunnel?  Proper time scales need to be clear, not only for the prisoner but for the families too.  It is better for loved ones to work together towards [? prevention of] reoffending, and a light at the end of something is the best incentive.  It needs to be abolished as soon as possible, and correct [determinate] senteces given.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Martina. I entirely agree about the inhumanity of the indeterminate sentence and the need for a prisoner to have a release date to aim at. The LASPO Bill which includes the replacement of IPPs by determinate sentences (as well as a lot of much more contentious stuff) is still grinding its way through the House of Lords. But it won’t apply to existing IPP sentences, unfortunately, although we know the Ministry of Justice recognises the urgent need to speed up the processing of IPPs and to ensure that a far higher proportion of post-tariff IPPs are promptly released.

  5. Helen says:

    I agree also, Martina and Brian.  What we as parents of an 18 months tariff IPP prisoner, still in prison almost 5 years later, find most difficult is the not knowing.  We could have coped so much better with a determinate sentence, even had his original crime warranted a sentence much longer.  But it didn’t.  We were told that the judge would have taken what would have been the equivalent determinate sentence into account, and halved it to set the tariff date.  So our son would have got a 3 year determinate sentence, and would be home now. Instead, he is subjected to assessments etc, just before a parole is due, nearly 3 years after his first one, which don’t recommend release, but yet another course (he has done 2 so far), miles away from here, and with lengthy waiting lists. Consequently, the Parole Board won’t even see him this year. So, in effect, he has been ‘condemned’ to at least another year in prison  – this time not by a judge, but by a psychologist and a probation officer.  Is this fair?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Helen. It’s terribly frustrating and unfair that these decisions affecting the liberty of someone who has served the ‘punishment’ element of his sentence should be taken extra-judicially, by people who in many cases (not necessarily including your son’s, but one has to wonder) are unreasonably risk-averse: finding a succession of excuses for delay in making a firm recommendation for release, in case the parole board accepts the recommendation and the IPP reoffends after being released, calling into question the judgement of those who recommended or ordered the release. Refusal to make that recommendation or that decision carries no risk (except the risk of a grave injustice, which can never be proved) to the psychologist, the probation officer or the parole board; hence the temptation to play safe. There is an urgent need for a radical change in the whole process of assessing IPPs immediately on completion of their tariffs, with the onus of demonstrating the reason for refusing release resting on the parole board and those who advise it. It’s fairly clear that the Ministry of Justice intends to reform the system in broadly this way, once the LASPO Bill has at last passed into law, but even then it will take time to introduce a new system, for which parole board members, parole officers, psychologists, prison officers, etc., will have to be re-trained: and even longer for it to be applied to each IPP prisoner, case by case.

    So when apparently or obviously unfair and unwarranted decisions are taken to delay an IPP’s ability to apply to the parole board or to secure approval for release, it’s essential to find a way to challenge them, perhaps by way of judicial review, if so advised by an experienced solicitor who is thoroughly familiar with the existing system and with the numerous devices that are employed to put off a decision on release. Many of these advertise in ‘Inside Time’.

  6. Bob says:

    Hello Helen,
    I returned to this blog on Feb 1st after a year’s absence to do with my role on the IMB, which I explained in that comment.  Now I have caught up with various cases, including your son’s   – a quite appalling one even by IPP standards.
    You said on Feb 6th (and 13th) that the psychologists have recommended that your son should do yet another course. I assume this was as a result of his SARN report (Structured Assessment of  Risk and Need), a report habitually written by a (trainee) psychologist who would have had no contact with him during his course, but who comes in as a ‘neutral’ (often from another establishment) to discuss with him the course assessment given him  by his facilitator(s) at the end of his course. In other words the SARN report basically summarises where he’s at, and points to his next stage  – often either a parole board (PB)  appearance or sadly, as in your son’s case, more courses to ‘make sure!’
    I suggest you try to find out in the first place if my suspicions are correct about the SARN report.
    I know how terrible this must be for all of you, and in your place I would want to know more about  how this decision was arrived at. SARN reports are not sacrosanct and can be challenged. Has your solicitor done so? I think this is vital in the case of a man whose last parole board hearing was three years ago. (On Feb 6th you said his ‘last parole’ was nearly three years ago;  careful…!)
    I’m not sure about the rules without checking (which I can’t do right now, but will after the weekend), but it seems strange that a man who has done two OBPs, and has been in prison for  almost 5.5 years hasn’t had a PB hearing for nearly three years. I’d say there’s work for a lawyer there!
    I assume your son has spoken to the IMB about his situation. Some of my IMB colleagues feel very strongly about the unfairness and inhumanity of IPP sentences and would be sure to offer what help they could. Good luck!

  7. Helen says:

    Dear Bob, Thank you for that, and yes, you are right about the SARN report, and its recommendation, which has now been seized upon by the Offender Manager, who waitied for this before adding her bit, with exactly the same recommendation.  It is over 3 years since his previous – not last!- report, and I find it hard to understand that the only time these people get involved, is just before he is due for a parole! Coming up to 5 years imprisonment for what was an 18 months’ minimum tariff, we wonder just how long this can go on for.  Our son’s solicitor has sent in an appeal against the decision not to have an oral hearing, based on the inaccuracies in the reports, so I will keep you informed. Thank you again for all your help, and to Brian too.

  8. Helen says:

    Following some previous excellent advice about appealing against not being given an oral review, our son’s solicitor did the necessary, and hey presto, an oral hearing will be held, date as yet unknown! The psychologist and offender manager will be required to be present, and we shall also attend. At least our son will now be able to properly present his case for being released. He will have served 5 years in 2 months’ time, for an IPP with an 18 months’ minimum tariff. He has also lodged a complaint of ‘bullying’ against his OM, – I’m grateful for that advice, too – who told him she could force him to transfer prisons to do yet another offending behaviour programme, which would add on at least a further year to his sentence. He has already completed 2 OBPs. So, please, anyone out there in a similar situation, don’t give up. It is essential to challenge any inaccuracies in reports. I know our son isn’t guaranteed a release after a parole hearing.  However, he will have at least tried, and will have a chance to be heard in person, instead of being just written off on paper again, because of someone’s misconstrued ‘opinion’. 

    Brian writes: Thank you for this. That’s very good news about your son’s hearing. Good luck!

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