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28 Sep 2022

Howard League responds to Justice Committee report on IPP sentences

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to the Justice Committee’s report on sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP), published today (Wednesday 28 September).

After a year-long inquiry, to which the Howard League submitted evidence, the committee has 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.

Although IPP sentences were scrapped in 2012, almost 3,000 people who were given them remain in prison. About half of them have never been released; the others have been recalled. The committee learned of cases where people have been imprisoned a decade beyond the tariff for their original sentence, which could be as low as two years or less.

Ever since IPP sentences were introduced in 2005, the Howard League has opposed them as wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. The charity warned that the legislation created a bureaucratic nightmare that would haunt successive governments. Five Prime Ministers later, the problem persists.

Andrea Coomber, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Unjust IPP sentences were abolished almost a decade ago, but the misery continues for thousands of people still trapped in the prison system and their families.

“A vast majority have been held behind bars for far longer than the sentencing judge ever could have intended, without support and at immense cost to their physical and mental health. Those released have been living under a shadow, with the threat of recall always present. There is crossbench consensus that this must change, but successive governments have done nothing to address the enduring injustice.

“The cruellest aspect of IPP sentences is how they offer false hope. Ministers must ensure that this report from the Justice Committee does not end up doing the same. It is time to end this shameful chapter and enable people to rebuild their lives.”

In its evidence to the inquiry, the Howard League said that the number of people on IPP sentences recalled to prison had increased by one-third in five years, with the cycle of recall and re-release doing nothing to help them, nor victims, nor the public.

The Howard League suggested that the IPP licence should be reformed so that, if someone is not recalled within two years of their release, the licence will expire. The committee has instead recommended halving – from 10 years to five – the time period following release after which licence termination can be considered.

The committee found that the psychological harm caused by IPP sentences was a “considerable barrier to progression” for people in prison. The report cites the Howard League’s evidence that there are a number of people serving IPP sentences who are seriously unwell and have either become stuck in hospital or should not be in prison, as well as those who have had insufficient support in custody or in terms of release planning.

MPs also noted the findings of a Howard League survey of prison governors, published in 2013, in which: 43 per cent of respondents reported that IPP sentences reduced the credibility of prison staff because they were not seen as fair; 42 per cent were dissatisfied with their job because they could not support people on IPP sentences adequately; and 37 per cent felt that they had to deal with worse behaviour among people in prison because of the sentence.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The Howard League’s written evidence to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into IPP sentences can be read online.
  3. The Howard League supported two amendments on IPP sentences as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill went through Parliament. They would have reduced the qualifying period before a licence could be terminated and introduced an additional executive power for re-release. The government resisted even these small, practical changes, as Andrea Coomber, Chief Executive of the Howard League, explained in a blogpost published in January.
  4. Findings of a survey of prison governors about the impact of IPP sentences were published in a Howard League briefing, The never-ending story: Indeterminate sentencing and the prison regime, which can be downloaded from the charity’s website.
  5. Further information about the Justice Committee inquiry can be found online.


Rob Preece
Communications Manager
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

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