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Howard League blog · 29 Jul 2016

The manifest injustice of the IPP

The Chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, suggested this week that the people serving indeterminate sentences should be released once their tariff has expired unless it can be proved they continue to be a risk. This is a reversal of the current burden of proof that requires people to prove they are safe.

This is a sensible, level-headed and just reform. We cannot continue to incarcerate thousands of people because of something they might do. It is manifestly unfair and it is causing chaos inside prisons as people are caged for years past the date they expected to be released with no end in sight.

It is extremely hard to prove you are safe to be released when you are in prison. Compliance does not necessarily imply that people will adjust well in the community. Indeed, it could be argued that people who challenge the system may be more likely to face up the exigencies of life outside.

I am pleased that efforts are being made to remedy the manifest injustice of the IPP by easing people through prison more quickly. But, and this is a very big but, there is a ticking time bomb that has yet to be dealt with.

People sentenced to an IPP are recorded on the prison computer as having a 99-year sentence because they are subject to a life licence. When they are released they are on licence for life but they are able to request that the licence is lifted after ten years. So far, no one has done this.

People released from an IPP are being recalled to prison under these administrative powers. The figures published yesterday show that 410 IPPs have been recalled to prison in the last 12 months alone.

I met with David Blunkett last week. You will recall that he was the Secretary of State who introduced the IPP. He has publicly admitted that what happened was not what he intended and far too many people were caught in the net.

He has agreed to support a call from the Howard League to get rid of the life licence and to have instead a fixed period of supervision of two years, with the possibility of a further year if the Secretary of State deems it is required for public safety.

The iniquitous element of the IPP is the uncertainty. People are languishing in prison for years with no idea of when they may be released and this uncertainty is replicated when they are eventually released as they face the possibility of being recalled to prison at any time because they behaviour is deemed ‘risky’. This could mean a man going to the pub with friends when the original offence, committed maybe a decade ago when the he was in his twenties, involved alcohol.

When Parliament comes back in the autumn we will be working with David Blunkett and government to get this change.


  • D Brock says:

    Hello Everyone,

    I have been reading through all of your comments.

    I have conducted research with IPPs in prison with a view to properly addressing the crisis and from a different perspective. My research is formed from the voices of current IPPs so as to make the required impact and indeed ‘expose’ what is going on in their reality, and how we can improve things for these guys in the mean time. If anyone would like to chat with me about ideas, concerns, anything IPP related, please do so! Id love to chat. Ping me an email at x

  • Jeremy says:

    The enormous suffering caused by this sentence has yet to be uncovered. I wonder if out there somewhere there is a reporter brave enough to dig below the surface and uncover it. A significant number have died in prison because of the trauma they have had to endure but it is not just the subject that suffers, its their family too. Children forced to cope with their dad behind bars way passed his sentence end date. Any hope of a normal family life destroyed. So children suffer because they miss out on having a father there to help them. This of course puts more pressure on the wife. She has to try and be both their mum and dad. But how does she cope. Having to cope with no one there to help, having to goto a prison to see the one she loves but not being able to properly talk and relax with him like in any normal relationship. But its not just wives and partners, what about parents, what about their suffering? Seeing someone you love suffer year after year as they are turned down again for parole. Seeing them slowly unravel as they lose hope at ever being released. No end date, no hope. A justice system that is so unjust. Retribution,, persecution and nothing but hatred at its core. Inexcusable, persistent persecution is the true meaning of I.P.P. Talk is cheap in politics. Its time to act. Get these people out. Reporters start reporting the true cost of this sentence. The Howard league have gone deep to the core to tell it how it is. Now let the public see how unjust this sentence has been to families

    • soozy_thom says:

      I have been trying to get a reporter to talk to me for a while now. noone seams interested unless ipp is already in the spotlight for something bad. my partner is now 8.5 years over tariff. his problem isnt the sentence or the complying it’s the fact that he’s done everything he should for years and gotten nowhere, he’s given up and down believes he’ll spend all his life in prison. he isn’t a violent man, quite the opposite in fact. he’s a quiet man who can’t wait to wash the car and mow the lawn on a Sunday and provide me with all the live a wife could wish for, he just wanta normality. with all the new staff coming in to prisons atm there is alot of ignorance around the issue of IPP and their requirements. he’s currently in a YOI Ccat where nickings are giving out like sweets and the OMU there isn’t catering for his needs. all this adds to one thing…. parole knock back. he’s pushing me away and there is nothing I can do. the fact remains that he has served 11 years for having a fight when he was 20, he has served more than 2x the maximum for his crime. heart is breaking daily. the limbo is awful. we, the family members are doing the sentence with them. we can’t plan a future without a date to aim for.

      • Helena K says:

        Hi Soozy!!!
        I am currently researching IPP sentences relating to mental health effects on prisoners with no release date and their families. I would love to speak with you. If you are interested my email is, please do get in touch.

        Many thanks and best of luck!

      • Davidmarkcain says:

        Hi soozy thom- i am a writer and social historian and would be very interested to speak with you about your partner and the impact on both your lives. I have recently worked on a play based on the inquest into injustice at Hillsborough. The aim behind this was to share the truth and use people’s own words to get out the message of injustice. The play was performed at the Brighton festival.This will also be published next year. I have followed the IPP campaign for a while as my wife used to work as a tutor at a HMP. I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you and turn a campaign into a way of engaging with the public about people’s experiences and the injustice of this sentencing. You can contact me at

  • […] Penal Reform, said the proposal was a ‘sensible, level-headed and just reform’ in her blog for the […]

  • Alastair McOran-Campbell says:

    Excellent blog, excellent comments. It is high time the normal principles of British Justice were re-instated. It is hard to understand how Blunkett ever got conned into such a thing as an IPP in the first place. And there are a whole range of degrees of offence in each case – be it murder, violence, child pornography, or paedophilia – and in the latter case enormous variation re age of child, sex of child, and treatment or consent of “victims”. The Probation Service simply are not equipped to make the proper distinctions. The result is a blanket attitude on licence which is usually excessively restrictive and grossly unjust and based on a presumption of on-going potential danger. I am heartened to see that the H leaque and Nick Hardwick are working on this problem. I am personally in touch with a released IPP who lives with the Probation Service round his neck. Reform cannot be too swift.

  • Claire Bown says:

    Would it be possible for me to attend my brothers parole hearing? He is IPP 10 years on a 2 year tariff.

    • Clare says:

      Hello, Yes you can you just need your brother to put it in written to the board that he wishes you to be at the hhearing and also ask the solicitor to also help you with this and they can put your name down I hope that has helped hun x

    • The Howard League Legal Team says:

      Hi Claire,

      Thank you for your query.

      We will email you with further details; however, the simple answer is yes, you can attend your brother’s parole hearing. This is subject to certain other restrictions (which we will detail in our email response).

      For further information in the meantime, please see

      Kind regards,

      The Howard League Legal Team

  • tammi Ramshaw says:

    How quickly can these changes be made? The impact on families is devastation! Waiting is all anyone can do? It feels hopeless.

  • Jan B says:

    I am not an expert on the law but it seems to me that the Probation Service do not have to answer to the law. This is wrong. I do not know of any other profession that has carte blanche say over other people’s lives yet does not have to answer or comply to a clear set of rules. If there was the same inconsistency within eduaction there would be an outcry. Why do they not have to answer to Government or any one else? If they had to make sworn statements and were answerable for these statements perhaps they would think twice before making the decisions they do.

  • Please explain what an IPP is. Few will know except those on one. These sentences have been abolished. Only those serving under failed scheme have not been. Judiciary should do so today by 4 pm. They have 15 minutes. Go!

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