Howard League blog · 3 Oct 2022
“This sentence is a living hell”
The Howard League is to hold a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference this afternoon. The title is ‘What’s the future for prisons?’ and the scandal of sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) is likely to be among the topics that come up for discussion.
IPPs were abolished almost a decade ago, but today almost 3,000 people who were given them remain stuck behind bars. About half have never been released; the rest have been recalled.
For some on an IPP, the minimum tariff handed down by the judge could be as short as a couple of years, or even a few months, but the actual time spent in prison was much longer. This is perhaps the cruellest aspect of the sentence; it offered people false hope. Ministers must ensure that a landmark report, published last week by the Justice Committee, does not do the same.
After a year-long inquiry, to which the Howard League submitted evidence, the committee found IPP sentences to be “irredeemably flawed” and called on the government to re-sentence all people in prison who are subject to them. This would involve a time-limited small expert committee, working in conjunction with the senior judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise.
Ever since IPP sentences were introduced in 2005, the Howard League has opposed them as wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. We warned that the legislation created a bureaucratic nightmare that would haunt successive governments. Five Prime Ministers later, the problem persists.
The damage caused is clear to see. Last week, I met a man in a Midlands prison who had been given an IPP with a two-year tariff and was still inside, 17 years later. He was devoid of hope and anxious that he will never be released.
The Howard League’s members include people in prison on IPP sentences, and they told us about their hopelessness earlier this year. When we surveyed members in prison to ask how the two years of Covid-19 lockdown had been, we received a response from someone who was more than 10 years beyond their tariff.
Watch this compelling Channel 4 News report, broadcast on the day of the Justice Committee report’s release, which features interviews with people still experiencing the impact of the IPP sentences they were given.
Last week, I met a man in a Midlands prison who had been given an IPP with a two-year tariff and was still inside, 17 years later. He was devoid of hope and anxious that he will never be released.
One of the interviewees, Ronnie Sinclair, explains that they were given a three-year tariff but not released for almost 16 years. Another, Shaun Lloyd, is filmed while packing his suitcase, about to be recalled to prison: “To this day I’m struggling to function in the outside world. I struggle a lot with what prison did to me, mentally…The IPP is just a big, black, dark cloud hanging over us all.”
The plight of people serving IPP sentences has alarmed independent monitoring boards (IMBs), the teams of volunteers who monitor day-to-day life in their local prisons and check that people are treated fairly and humanely. The Howard League has seen the results of an informal survey conducted by IMB members, which sheds more light on the torment that people are going through.
“This sentence is a living hell,” said one respondent. “Always delays in everything. Never an end in sight. People just lose hope. I’ve been lucky, my mind is strong.
“Licence conditions in the community are too strict, always walking on eggshells, the stress is too much.”
Another survey respondent was blunter still. “Personally, I’d rather you shoot me than make me endure this any longer,” they said. “It would be more humane.”
The Justice Committee found that inadequate provision of support services inside and outside of prison had led to a “recall merry-go-round”.
As one respondent to the IMB survey put it: “At some points there has been a plan, but it doesn’t help much.
“Everything is a challenge and constant stress to try to achieve what the Parole Board want. Things get added all the time.”
This December will mark 10 years since the IPP sentence was abolished. As this grim milestone approaches, the government must act to help the thousands of families still living with its consequences.