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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.

Andrea Coomber


  • Nikki says:

    My partner is IPP he has been recalled yesterday for poor behaviour. He has only been out 3 months and done nothing wrong. He was doing on Thursday and was pulled for no insurance but the car was insured and I can prove this. I just don’t know where to start or what happens now

    • Molly Corlett says:

      Hi Nikki, I am really sorry to hear this – it sounds incredibly difficult.

      The Howard League unfortunately can’t help with individual cases, but you could contact the Prisoners’ Families Helpline on 0808 808 2003 for advice and information, or your partner could contact the Prisoners’ Advice Service for legal advice. Details for the Prisoners’ Advice Service are available at PAS needs to be contacted by the person who is in prison before they can discuss their case with family members.

  • Cherrie Nichol says:

    Absolutely heart breaking for us and all the families it affects, it was abolished some time ago for being inhuman and unfit for purpose

    but sadly it still remains

    Our poor family members are slowly fading away with no hope of coming home, we just can’t let this happen, something needs to be done

  • Absolutely heart wrenching,my son Josh was given this torturous,life changing,sentence,and this will be devastating for him.As ever and with the dedicated campainging it istill as you say,those really suffering,needing much more then this.Josh has spent all of his young life surviving prison life and now having to really really fight to help him gain his life.After 15 years of his life gone he is now 32.There is much more needed to be done andwonder how many hostel places are available right now to house anyone released.

  • Absolutely heart wrenching,my son Josh was given this torturous,life changing,sentence,and this will be devastating for him.As ever and with the dedicated campainging it istill as you say,those really suffering,needing much more then this.Josh has spent all of his young life surviving prison life and now having to really really fight to help him gain his life.I am dumbfounded to read the concern’s expressed by the Chair of the Parole Board Caroline Corby.Quite shocked,as it was confusing,misleading and with all due respect wrong.

  • Michael says:

    I got ipp back in 2005 have been recalled twice once in 2012 feb… after being released for ten months. No new charges it took me 16 months to be re released. I was then in community for5 and a half years and was recalled in 2019 for drink driving dangerous driving ..albeit dangerous because I didn’t stop for police when asked. I was recalled saying I was not a risk of physically using violence. But I was indirectly dangerous because of mannered driving it took me 13 months to be re released. I have been back out over 18 months with no issues and my ten year licence period is up in 25 days time . I’ll be applying to terminate licence . Keep plugging away and never give in.

  • Lethaniel ross says:

    I’m a ipp who’s done Coming up to nine years on license this sentence that I received at 17 year of age with a punishment period of 3 years (3 years tariff) back in 2008 is without a doubt unjust and a mental torture I committed a crime and I deserved punishment but this sentence I was given at the age of 17 years old at the time I was deemed to young to go to a club to young to go to a gambling house didn’t have a clue how to get a car moving never even had a bank account it was my first time in jail the government doesn’t allow juveniles to do things as go clubbing or gamble as they are not seen as fully mature and will mature a great deal more in the future. I’ve hated David blanket for years for this evil sentence he ill thoughtfully introduced and to hear him say that he practically regrets handing out that sentence to youths gave me goose bumps. I’ve sat back and watched justice secretary after justice secretary who all know how much people are suffering from this unjust sentence do nothing to help the ones who got it and I include Ken Clarke in that. They all agree the ipp sentence was not working unjust and had to be abolished but when it come to those with the sentence it’s seemed as that’s the sentence they got so they must deal with it. They are all spineless and are scared of public backlash if they free iPPs and one goes on to commit a terrible crime. But over the years there’s been thousands and thousands of terrible crimes committed by people who don’t have ipp so they shouldn’t use that as a excuse. David blanket said the sentence was given out much broadly then he ever intended it was in fact only intended for 800 of the most serious crimes and criminals instead because the guidelines where so badly instructed over 9000 people ended up with it. The amount of suicides and mental health this sentence has led to is one those with the power who know of the harm the unjust sentence causes and do nothing about it will have to live with because the blood is on their hands. It’s a mess and it’s ruined thousands of lives and families and a lot of the damage can’t be undone especially where it’s caused people to take their own life however they ask what can be done now it’s simple Re sentence all iPPs and with the correct guildlines that David blunkett would of and should of brought out at the time as only 800 people should ever of got this sentence. There’s a great saying do the crime you do the time and all any ipp has ever wanted to know is what is the time!

  • William rowbotham says:

    I am a ipp released prisoner who has been out 7months now but if you need anything from me let me know thank you

    • kerry says:

      My brother was recalled and found not guilty for all charges yet he has been rotting in prison for years they will not allow his release

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