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Howard League blog · 28 Nov 2023

We will keep fighting for the release of people serving IPP sentences

Ten years ago, the Howard League published a research briefing which revealed the devastating impact that the sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) was having on people living and working in prison.

It explained how people on IPP sentences were stuck in the system, unable to progress, unclear on when they would be released, and facing life on licence if ever given freedom. It also included a survey of prison governors, who spoke about the challenges of trying to meet the needs of so many people who were losing hope.

The briefing was called The never-ending story. The title was appropriate then, and it has only become more so in the decade since, during which little has changed to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people and their families.

Today the government announced that, for some people on IPP sentences, this story will soon be coming to an end at last. Currently, a person released from prison must wait at least 10 years to have their licence reviewed by the Parole Board, but an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill will cut this period to three years. If a licence is not terminated at the three-year mark, it will end automatically after a further two years if the person is not recalled to prison in that time. The changes will be applied retrospectively, meaning that about 1,800 people currently living in the community should see their licences end when the legislation comes into force.

But while today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, more must be done to help the almost 3,000 people who remain in prison more than a decade after the IPP sentence was abolished. For them, the IPP scandal is far from over. The never-ending story continues.

The bare facts remain shocking. The IPP sentence was introduced in 2005, intended for a small number of people convicted of serious crimes. In practice, however, the sentence was used widely and inconsistently, and given to some people who had not committed serious crimes at all. It was eventually abolished by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, but not before 8,711 IPPs had been imposed by the courts – and, crucially, the abolition was not retrospective, meaning that anyone in prison on an IPP remained in prison on an IPP.

Much more needs to be done to help the thousands still in prison, and their families waiting for justice. Ministers must come forward with a plan for their release; and fast.

Under the sentence, people were given a minimum term, or ‘tariff’, which had to be served in custody in full. At the end of the tariff, they could only be released if the Parole Board was satisfied that they were safe to be released on licence. At the end of September this year, 1,269 people on IPP sentences were still waiting to be released; a further 1,652 were back in prison having been recalled.

Almost 700 people in prison are more than 10 years beyond their tariff. People serving IPPs write to me all the time describing the despair that comes with a sentence apparently without end. And when I visit prisons, I always meet with people on IPPs. I met one of our members recently who was given a one-year IPP sentence when he was 17 years old; he has now been in prison for 19 years. I recently met with a group of men serving the IPP sentence who described feeling forgotten, alone, and indignant at the injustice of it all. A number said that they were resigned to dying in jail.

The excellent UNGRIPP website states that there have been 4,434 incidents of people on IPP sentences being recalled to prison since 2015. Most of these people have been recalled for non-compliance with licence conditions; they have not reoffended. UNGRIPP say that, in 2021, there were also 283 people serving IPP sentences in secure hospitals.

Today’s announcement will come as a relief to those people who are living in the community with the threat of a decade-long window of recall to prison hanging over them. They have waited a long time for a government, any government, to end their ordeal, and change has come at last. But I also think about our IPP-sentenced member who wrote to me over the summer who, after seven years living successfully in the community – a wife, children, a small business – had been recalled to prison after police were called to a party he attended where drugs were found. He had not used any drugs, no charges were laid against him, but he was recalled to prison and he felt like his life had fallen apart all over again.

Much more needs to be done to help this man and the thousands still in prison, and their families waiting for justice. Ministers must come forward with a plan for their release; and fast.

When, last year, we surveyed our members in prison for the issues that we should be working on, nearly every single response included that we needed to sort out the IPP sentence. It is a priority for us. We will keep fighting. We will continue to work for and alongside those directly affected by this disastrous policy, and we will support the growing number of parliamentarians from across all parties who are making the case for further reform.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.)


  • Samantha dymond says:

    I have a great friend who has been recalled and is presently waiting for a parole hearing. He believes he has to go into a hostel rather than live with me a qualified llb. He is presently sitting in Stoke heath prison not for reoffending for breaching a probation condition. This is torture this boy has been a victim of the system since a child. This situation is a have and have not situation the poorest of society not getting help and getting punished unjustly.

  • Bridget Mcinerney says:

    Please fight for the forgotten men left on this abolished unjust torture this is an abolished sentence it should be abolished completely and give ipp prisoners and their families back their lives we live day to day worrying about our loved one’s give us back our lives too many ipp prisoners dead to many ipp prisoners families dead end ipp once and for all

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