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Howard League blog · 27 Oct 2017

IPP prisoners are tangled within a Kafka novel

I visited a local prison a couple of weeks ago, and as I always do, I chatted to people I met along the way. One conversation stuck with me and the man has since written to me to tell me his story.

He was sentenced to an IPP in January 2006 with a tariff of 12 months. He was 19 years old.

As he says, he had a few ‘blips’ in his life, with an absent father and a poor relationship with his mother. He had been involved in petty crime and driving offences, hence the low tariff on his IPP. He told me that he is a good decent man who just wants a normal life and has a job and family waiting for him. He says he is sorry about his mistakes and he wishes he could go back and make things right, but he can only change his future, not his past.

He was released but was recalled because he missed appointments with his probation officer. He has now served another two years in prison waiting for another chance at release. He has served 12 years, not the 12 months that the judge indicated was appropriate.

It can take months, or even years, to get re-released

He is not alone, there are hundreds of prisoners serving an IPP who have been recalled for this sort of administrative reason and are then tangled within a Kafka novel. It can take months, or even years, to get re-released. Even then, they may have to start all over again and stay in a hostel, often a drug-ridden and grotty place miles from home or connections. We are getting evidence that it is often staff in the hostels, who do not know the men, who trigger a recall without finding out the reason for the rule-breaking. This is risk-aversion gone mad.

I know the Parole Board is trying to speed up its processes for release and is now doing re-releases on paper without the need to hold a full oral hearing. But, it should not take more than two years to sort out releasing someone. Meanwhile, they are held in a crowded, understaffed prison that has not a single green area and was mostly built two centuries ago, with nothing to do all day, year after year.

The prisons minister was questioned about his plans to resolve the plight of IPPs at the Parliamentary Justice Select Committee. His response did not offer solutions. However, I know that there is work going on, in the Parole Board and the Ministry of Justice, and some imaginative thinking. We cannot wait for legislation, these bodies must get a move on. British justice is in disgrace.


  • Christine Watkins says:

    For some time, I have been aware of the situation for prisoners on an IPP sentence but it was only on meeting a prisoner who told me his story that it really hit home. In 2007 he was given an 18 mth sentence but IPP. He has gone through numerous parole boards but always rejected, and now been in prison more than 10 years.
    Given this sentence has been abolished why do they need to go through a parole board and not simply released now, having well served their time.
    What more can we do.
    I am an Independent Prison Monitor (on human rights) and would wish to have more impact in regards to this particular issue.

  • Jez says:

    Inexcusable, Persistent Persecution, the true meaning of I. P. P

    There is nothing human about this sentence, it tortures both the subject and their family. Held potentially indefinitely for being a perceived risk on a risk calculation formula. Once you eventually get released you are on a licence which is so strict that even a minor breach could send you make to prison Potentially indefinitely. All in the name of perceived Public protection. You don’t have to do anything wrong, you can be recalled because someone thinks your perceived risk has increased. So held potentially indefinitely for being a perceived risk in a perceived thought of someone who hardly knows you.

  • Racheal Franklin says:

    This hits a nerve for me as my part5ner is an IPP, 4 year tariff now on his 11th year. He was 17 at the time of the alleged offence, just a baby. Its an inhumane sentence that gives individuals little hope for a life with the people they love, a mere existence. I petition and raise awareness in the hope for retrospective change , even if its to make sentences mandatory so we have a release date. Who knows when this nightmare will end .

  • Allison says:

    This saddens me so much. So many young people with no real family guidance end up in prison . 25% according to the Farmer report are Looked after children , so the government fail them as parents and then lock them up . IPP should be banned , I say once again if we were hearing this on the news by a third world country we would be shocked , but it is happening right here right now . This young man has been tragically missed out on you much of his young life .because of mistakes he made when we was young , He has a job and a family , let’s get him back into society we’re he can contribute and give himself a sense of self worth

    • You’ll be pleased to know Allison that IPP’s were abolished, however there are still thousands of IPP’s prisoners in our prisons today that are way over tariff, I have to say though since Nick Hardwick took over at the parole board that these prisoners are slowly, but could be faster, progressing towards release, feel free to read my blog, the title explains what it is

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