Howard League blog · 21 Sep 2017
Ending the injustice of IPPs
The recent high profile public concern about the people languishing in prison on the long discredited IPP sentence is welcome, as is the pressure to get them eased through the system and released back into the community. The problem is that they are being recalled to prison.
There were 8,711 men and a handful of women and children who had this open-ended sentence imposed on them. There are still over 4,000 in prison (as at March 2017) of whom 711 had been recalled to prison having been released. An examination of the figures gives a depressing picture.
Since 2011, there have been 1,670 recalls of people serving an IPP, and now they are being recalled at almost the same rate as they are being released.
In January to March this year, 153 IPP prisoners were released but 124 were recalled. This is in contrast to the release of 110 mandatory lifers (usually people who have been convicted of murder) of whom 48 were recalled, still a worrying proportion but nothing like the number of IPPs.
Four people on an IPP who had been recalled to prison have taken their own lives this year, the most recent was a 29 year old man in Nottingham who was recalled for not sleeping at his hostel. The Parole Board normally makes it condition of release to live in a hostel for a specified time, even if people have a loving and supportive family or friends willing to take them home. Hostels are really not loving and supportive and they rarely provide daytime activities, leaving people to wander the streets aimlessly all day.
The pressure on probation services mean that staff have huge caseloads and are so risk-averse that a recall can be the default rather than an exception.
People sentenced to an IPP had often committed serious offences and may have had a range of complex needs. Their wellbeing was not helped by being incarcerated for years longer than they had been led to believe and had anticipated. Prison is a damaging environment. No wonder the self-injury and death rate amongst these prisoners is so high.
So, I have been working for the last six months on a solution.
Now that the sentence itself has been abolished, we need to abolish the life licence and easy recall. I am waiting for the promised Courts Bill to come to Parliament and I am pleased that eminent Peers have committed to tabling an amendment to achieve this. We are busy drafting an amendment now. I suggest a specified period of supervision and support as people who have spent years in prison do indeed need help to resettle safely. I suggest that we get rid of the administrative recalls that are causing havoc inside prisons and leading to self-injury and suicide.
There are serious lessons here for politicians. Think carefully, and listen to people who know, before you introduce catastrophic legislation that blights lives, costs the public a fortune and puts the public at risk. The good news is that the politicians who brought in the IPP have admitted that it was a mistake. This shows integrity and courage; more politicians should admit their mistakes more often. We would have a better functioning justice system if they did.