Howard League blog · 17 Jan 2022
The decades-long injustice of the IPP sentence must end
Today, the report stage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the House of Lords comes to an end. The amended bill will now go to a third reading in the House of Lords, followed by a “ping pong” stage where both Houses of Parliament must agree on the wording of the Bill.
In a previous blog, I described the Lords’ thoughtful and informed Committee stage debate on amendments to the sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) as an example of Parliament at its best. Despite the crossbench consensus on the injustices of the IPP sentence in November’s debate, none of the amendments were incorporated into the Bill at either Committee or Report stage.
We are told that the government will bring its own amendment at Third Reading, focused on automatic referrals of people who can apply to have their IPP licence terminated. The government is aware that an amendment on automatic referral alone cannot address the other grave and pressing problems with the IPP sentence, including the 1,661 people who have never been released and the ten years which people must spend on licence before they can apply for termination.
However, ministers have chosen to hide behind the ongoing parliamentary Justice Committee inquiry on IPPs, committing only to revisiting these issues once the Committee’s report is published.
In the Howard League’s own evidence to the Justice Committee inquiry, we explained that the IPP sentence had been unjust and unworkable at its introduction and remained unjust and workable today.
It is ten years now since the IPP sentence was abolished by the Coalition government, seven years after it came into force. Yet around six thousand people remained in prison on an IPP and were not resentenced or released at the time. Subsequent releases have been counterbalanced by a worrying increase in recalls, most of which are for administrative breaches of the IPP licence.
In September 2021, nearly 1,400 people were in prison after being recalled on an IPP sentence. Those who were recalled during the Covid-19 pandemic spent months locked up in their cells for up to 23 hours a day, a draconian punishment for potentially minor breaches of licence conditions.
Though some recall decisions are made in haste, with the full picture only emerging after someone has been sent back to custody, people on IPP sentences must wait for their case to be reviewed by the Parole Board before they can hope for re-release. As the Chair of the Parole Board put it in his evidence to the Justice Committee inquiry, after expressing concern about “the number of people on the continued merry-go-round of being released and recalled back into custody”:
“the second you recall an IPP offender they have to be referred to the Parole Board. If the answer is that they have gone missing but then you discover their dad died yesterday so they went off the rails a little bit, what would be the problem in allowing them to be re-released rather than waiting six months for a parole hearing?”
The Howard League supported two amendments on IPPs which sought to address these problems, reducing the qualifying period before a licence could be terminated and introducing an additional, executive power for re-release. So far, the government has resisted even these small, practical changes.
Instead, the Secretary of State and his ministers have emphasised that there is an action plan on IPPs. The action plan includes expanding dedicated progression regimes for people on indeterminate sentences, so that they do not remain trapped in prison. Drawing on practice in open prisons, these progression regimes are based on a three-stage model where people gain more trust and independence at every stage.
However, as recent inspection reports underline, this model has faltered with restricted regimes in response to Covid.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) at HMP Warren Hill found that the progression regime for people on indeterminate sentences had been “severely curtailed”. At HMP Erlestoke, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons found that one of the two dedicated progression units had closed, scattering people who had been in the unit across the prison and damaging the social side of the regime. The progression regime as a whole had “lost its overall focus with the loss of the manager and other experienced staff and, consequently, was largely ineffective”.
Outside the dedicated progression regimes, which are only in operation at four prisons, other work to progress people on IPP sentences has been set back. At HMP Bullingdon, the IMB found that the 40 or so people who were on IPP sentences had lost support to progress. Before the pandemic, probation workers and the head of psychology had worked together to assess the barriers to release for people on IPPs and help them to move forwards. These meetings had stopped with the first lockdown restrictions and had not restarted by the end of the IMB reporting year in June 2021.
As the Lords who have spoken on this issue recognise, more must be done. The priority for us all must be getting and keeping people on IPP sentences out of the system, to prevent the ongoing injustice which they and their loved ones continue to wake up to every day. Over the next few months, the Howard League will be strategizing with other organisations and campaigning groups who represent IPPs and their families to navigate a path to justice. This decade-long injustice needs to end.