The Truth About IPP Sentences

Confusion over IPP sentences after Clarke’s latest announcement

Clarke - "IPP sentences are absurd"

Clarke - "IPP sentences are absurd"

As predicted over a year ago by, the Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke has confirmed the government’s intention to scrap the now notorious Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). However, after his most recent interview this morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, there is considerable confusion as to what will happen to those who are currently serving such sentences. Nor is it clear how long all this will take.

In the meantime, courts will continue to hand down IPP sentences at a rate of around 100 every month.

What Mr. Clarke seems to be implying is that all but the most dangerous offenders currently serving IPP sentences will have their sentence converted to a determinate sentence equal to the tariff – the minimum time to be served – of their original IPP sentence. It is unclear however as to whether this will actually be possible – if indeed this is Mr. Clarke’s intention – given that this would mean anything up to 3,000 prisoners being released back into the community, presumably under some form of probation supervision.

Previously, such a situation has been considered as being politically unacceptable even if, as many others have stated along with this website, it would be the right thing to do.

With regard to the new sentencing proposals though, things are somewhat clearer. IPP’s will be scrapped but Mr. Clark wants the introduction of new mandatory life sentences for any offender who is convicted of a “serious” sexual or violent offence on a second separate occasion. To attract the new mandatory life sentence, the determinate sentence that would have been given to second time offenders must have been certain to attract at least 10 years in prison.

Actually, this is nothing new and is more or less what used to happen before the introduction of the IPP sentence to repeat offenders who committed serious offences. There will also be a provision for the judge to hand down something other than a mandatory life sentence if the judge believes that such a sentence would be unjustified given the facts of the case.

Other determinate sentences will now require that prisoners serve at least two thirds of the total sentence before being released. This is also in accordance with what used to happen in the past.

Returning to those who are already serving an IPP sentence, now totalling 6000 or more and of whom over 3,000 are past their minimum custody period or “tariff”, Mr. Clarke can expect a rough ride in the House of Commons when the new measures are debated next week.

Many backbench Tory MPs and almost all previously ‘Blairite’ Labour MPs are against repealing the IPP sentence and are making enormous capital from the prospect of thousands of “dangerous” offenders being released back onto the streets.

Mr. Clarke freely admits, correctly in the view of, that the IPP sentence is “absurd” and that is his intention to generally get rid of all the “populist nonsense” in sentencing that was introduced by the last Labour government, mainly at the behest of the tabloid newspapers and child protection groups.

This is a brave move indeed and is unlikely to have seen the light of day were anyone other than Ken Clarke in charge of the Ministry of Justice. Few other politicians would have the courage or the stamina to do what he is doing.

Having said all that, the confusion is exacerbated by Mr. Clarke’s other statement this morning during his interview that “The Parole Board has no scientific way of determining whether or not somebody will reoffend”, a point that he has made before. Previously however, Mr. Clarke intimated that the Parole Board would be given a standard, formalised test to apply to prisoners seeking early release from a sentence.

This idea seems to have been kicked into the long grass, presumably because no one could come up with a suitable test or one that was acceptable to those charged with the responsibility of deciding whether or not a serious offender should be released back into the community.

Currently, most influence on the Parole Board comes from the Probation Service in the form of reports which are nearly always damning in nature, highly subjective and often highly inaccurate when it comes to describing the true likelihood of someone reoffending.

It was in an attempt to rid the Parole Board of the hideous bias introduced by risk averse probation officers during the consideration of release and rehabilitation in the community that the test was to be introduced. It looks now as if Mr. Clarke has been forced to abandon the idea of a formalised test and means that probation officers will be allowed to go on getting things hopelessly wrong and to continue to introduce their own bias and prejudice into release procedures.

If it is indeed Mr. Clarke’s intention to release those IPP prisoners who have already completed their tariff back into the community – although he has already intimated that around 20 such offenders will instead be given mandatory life sentences instead of an IPP – panic will be prevalent in local probation departments all over the country.

The Probation Service have already made it clear that in their view they already have insufficient staff to satisfactorily monitor those in their charge. This particularly applies to sexual and violent offenders, many of whom will be serving IPP sentences.

There are also potential logistical problems with Mr Clarke’s intended actions. Nearly all sex offenders who are released from prison are forced into what are known as “Approved Premises”, small institutions holding around 24 people and which are run by or on behalf of the Probation Service.

These highly supervised hostels, unlike common bail hostels, operate under a system of “Enhanced Supervision” where every aspect of a released offender’s behaviour is monitored, recorded and reported. Decisions as to how a particular offender’s risk will be managed are then taken by the offender’s probation officer, now known as the “Offender Manager” in conjunction with the local Multi Agency Public Protection Panel or MAPPA.

Given that there are only about 100 hostels in the country in total and that only about 10% of these are suitable for enhanced supervision procedures, it would clearly be chaotic if 3,000 or more IPP prisoners, including many sex offenders, were suddenly released straight back into an already mistakenly terrified and hysterical community.

This is a prospect that has already been attacked by right wing Tories, many Labour MPs, child protection organisations, women’s groups and inevitably, the tabloid newspapers as being completely unacceptable.

Mr. Clarke has also not made it clear as to who will determine whether or not an IPP prisoner has his sentence converted to a determinate sentence or, if the case is serious enough, a mandatory life sentence. One may presume that this procedure would be carried out by the Parole Board, no doubt with all possible interference from the Probation Service who are already fearful that their overbearing and unjust influence over release decisions may be under attack.

It is also fairly safe to assume that for political reasons if no other, those who have been convicted of child sex offences are more likely to be in the firing line when it comes to the awarding of mandatory life sentences. can say this with some confidence as Mr. Clarke has already made it clear that it is the government’s intention to expand the scope of the definition of “serious offences” to include child sex offences, terrorist offences and offences where a child has been allowed to die.

In our opinion this is a dangerous route on which to embark as it invites “mission creep” and the “ratcheting up” of sentences for those deemed by populist newspapers and those with vested interests as being “dangerous to the public”.

If Mr. Clarke is truly intent on getting rid of the “populist nonsense” introduced by Tony Blair and his cronies, all of whom seem to have been in the pockets of Rupert Murdoch and others, then he should think again about expanding the meaning of “serious offences”.

As previously stated, all these new measures are to be discussed in the House of Commons next week and we can expect a fiery exchange between those who can see the commonsense inherent in Mr. Clarke’s proposals and those who may feel that the somewhat fragile pedestal upon which they have placed themselves may collapse.

We can expect too a howl of anguish from all those involved with any form of public protection and whose jobs and considerable income rely on maintaining the myth that everyone convicted of certain types of offences must be “dangerous” and incapable of change. sincerely congratulates Mr. Clarke on the brave stance that he is taking in introducing what are by anyone’s reckoning, radical reforms. On the other hand, we urge caution in exactly how these measures are executed.

We share the views of those such as Francis Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform who, like us, has made the point that Britain already has more life sentence prisoners than the rest of Europe put together and also locks up more children than any other European country, something else that is likely to increase under Mr Clarke’s proposals.

One would have thought that given the American experience of mandatory sentencing, something that has almost bankrupted certain states in the US, the last thing that Britain would want to introduce would be more mandatory life sentences, particularly given the current financial situation and the inevitable high cost of maintaining such prison sentences. There is a suspicion therefore, in this office at least, that Mr. Clarke is to a certain extent being driven by political compromise.

With the introduction of more mandatory life sentences and an emphasis on child sex offences, violent offences and terrorism, it would seem that Mr. Clarke is trying to head off opposition from the loudest voices in the Conservative party and the tabloid papers.

We do not believe that the idea of more mandatory life sentences came from Mr. Clarke himself given that he has previously stated quite firmly that he is against mandatory sentences as they take away discretion from judges when sentencing and sometimes do not reflect all the salient facts of the case.

To that extent at least, believes that these measures have David Cameron’s fingerprints all over them and that he was no doubt assisted in his offending against reality by the vicious, ambitious and thoroughly self-seeking Home Secretary, Theresa May.

It is also essential for all those who have friends or family in prison currently serving IPP sentences that there should be clarity as to what will happen to those prisoners. It needs to be made crystal clear which IPP sentences will be converted to determinate sentences, if indeed that is Mr. Clarke’s intention, which cases may be considered sufficiently serious to warrant a mandatory life sentence and, perhaps most importantly of all, how these decisions will be made and by whom.

Until clarification of the new sentencing proposals are presented, confusion will continue to reign and the prospect of even more people being locked up for even longer periods of time will loom over the justice system. This is in sharp contrast to Mr. Clarke’s stated intention of reducing the prison population and makes no sense at all at a time when the trend in ‘serious’ crime is uncertain, the money has run out and more and more people are becoming unstable in their behaviour. believes that Mr. Clarke and his team, brave though they are, need to think very seriously before finalising their plans for IPP and mandatory life sentences. If they do so and if they are able to find an acceptable and realistic mechanism by which those already serving IPP sentences can be released, we will see at last the reverse of one of the most unjust and unfair sentences ever introduced into the British criminal justice system; a sentence that was introduced for purely political reasons by a Labour government supported by a right wing Tory opposition, both of which were obsessed with populism and carrying favour with the tabloids.

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22 Responses to Confusion over IPP sentences after Clarke’s latest announcement

  1. karl mchugh
    February 22, 2015 at 4:46 am

    My friend Tony has done 5 years over his tariff and he is a model prisoner, and had been for 10 years , He is now getting desperate I see it in his letters, I feel i need to seek help on the outside for him …. does anyone have any ideas for me to start from please ?

  2. t dawn
    August 10, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    My son was given the max sentance today 24yrs and ipp i dont condone what he did it wasnt murder, but i think reading about ipp today i am shocked as the judge told my son he would probably never come out at all he went to the police himself and admitted his crimes his pyschiatric report says he has a less than 5% chance of reoffending yet still he throw the book at him yet 3 cases simular in the news one walked free from court another who did so much more got 6 yrs and another 3 this shouldnt be up to the judge to give out what he feels like on the day its not right on the prisoner or the family

  3. Nicola James
    March 13, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Its against human rights, My poor cousin has been away since he was 16 hes no murderer it was for fighting!! Hes served his time 15 times over. GET THESE POOR MEN (USED TO BE TEENAGERS) OUT!!! The goverment have treated these prisoners like killers and murderers but then again murderers get out after a few years….. Doesn’t make sence does it????

  4. Martina
    January 29, 2012 at 7:54 pm

    I.P.P is one of the most feeble barbaric sentences that can be given. Loved ones are living the sentence too, with no release date to head towards. It should not be allowed under the human rights act. “Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment”.

  5. Hopeful Parents
    January 16, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    I am a Mother who is watching a Son trying to keep sane he is now nearly 2 years over his tariff on the outside he looks ok but I am not sure if he could cope with another knock back I just don’t trust the Parole board to direct release when his 2nd attempt comes around everyday I search to see if there has been a decision re IPP prisoners over tariff I know he has changed he knows he has changed but how do you convince the board I believe they are scared of releasing anyone just incase they re offend similar to why he got an IPP just incase he continued to commit serious offences but we trust in god and all I say to him is you will be released one day so never give up hope I pray Ken Clarke is strong enough to go fully behind what he believes is right.

    • welshman
      January 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      I hear your pain but what if your son was the victim of a violent crime?. The state has to be sure.
      I teach vocational training inside a cat c and it will not surprise you to know that prisoners will tell you anything to get out.
      Most of my guys are just lost young men, poorly educated and lacking the tools to get out and make a success of their lives.
      However, its also been my experience that anytime i have been assaulted ,its been by IPP guys. Quick temper,change in a second types who would seriously cause concern to the public if released.

      • mr jones henley on thames
        January 30, 2012 at 9:33 am

        can you tell me mr welsman my son got ipp the man did not need hospital treatment at all no wepa n and got 2 year ipp he is still in 8 year.s later and has had a 2 year kb on the parole bord wich he has never seen .wen he gets a cat c. he will do 2 to3 year in a cat c. then 2 in a cat d 15 year for a black eye its just as well we have human rights this is barbarik leve ken clark to do the right thing mr camron

    • Lee
      August 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      oh my god at last someone that nos what i am going through ithought i was on my own!my son is now comin up 2 his 4th parole and still probation are recommendin he stays in what a joke as his ipp was for somat that doesen justify stayin inside any longer but i no probation thinks its more work for em how wrong is that when my son has to stay inside and rot because they cant b bothered hes changed so much and cant do it any more but what choice has he got when parole just listen 2 everyone else instead of people that can b bothered please any advice would b welcome

  6. gaynor kells
    December 28, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    i think its disuisting that people who invove children like sex offenders are released after 4 yrs yet my son that i do not agree in what he done stole money from an old lady never used any weapons or hurt her got ipp and as already served 5 yrs sort urserlves out and sort the sentance that u are just thowing at people yes give them a few yrs but not more than sex offenders or murders

  7. frank
    December 9, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Families of IPP and 2 strike prisoners need to start marching ,wareing tee shirts,civil disobediene attending courts and protesting.
    Write to people with influence ,with OBEs etc ,prominent sports people TELL YOUR story if you can convey your betrayal and loss then others with POWER, if they understand that this monstrous evil is practised in England may get involved.The trouble is the public are unaware.
    My brother got an 18 month tarriff,and im sorry for the people who rightly complain of a friend or family member who has served 3 or 4 years over tarriff,how would you feel if that was 11.5 years over tarriff, thats right,my brother has served over 13 years and counting!

    • Raymond Peytors -
      December 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm

      Editorial note: We must point out that the IPP was brought in under the CJA 2003. The longest possible period served so far cannot be more than 9 years. 2 strike mandatory life sentences may be unjust but it is not the same sentence as an IPP, even though there are indeed many life sebtenced prisoners that are years over tariff, sometimes much more than 11.5 years quoted. – RP

      • frank
        December 11, 2011 at 9:23 pm

        There may well be many life sentence prisoners who have served over 11.5 years over tarriff,but since two strikes was only introduced in 1997 there can be very few
        of these two strike prisoners who have served 11.5 years over tarriff.(since it only started 14 years ago)
        The point being,IPPs started when two strikes ended,2003? i.e a person was convicted for the same similar 2 seperate crimes under 2 strikes,when this ended and IPPs started he would be convicted for those SAME TWO crimes under the new IPP.
        Further more,the MAXIMUM possible sentence which could have been handed to my brother,for the crime he committed (gbh with intent)was 6 years ,before the totally unjust two strikes or ipp(which replaced two strikes) were in place.Which equates to 3 years.NOT 13 years plus and counting.

  8. naz
    November 27, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    im sure they talk about humanrights and what not whers all that gone now every1 deserves a second chance. and to prove themselves they nees to be let out not given an ipp how could some 1 prove themslves when they got an ipp an under so much stress because they dnt now if they will ever be released. probation need there jobs they aint gonna give any1 chance to prove themselves this is going agains human rights a prisoner gets sentenced for his/her crime u do ur time and then let go dats what a punishment is not trow the key away these courses are a load of excuses jus to keep them in not available come on if the goverment had planned to set up dis so callesd ipp then they should of planned hard enuf and make the courses available y do half the job. they need to fix this mess up and scrapp this ipp soon every ipp prisoner should get there freedom ipp is tearing famillys apart kids away from there loved ones jus not right ive been reading about the ipp and to think dat some prisoners have doubled or even trebld there time its discusting y when theres rapist murderers given a chance and many of these ipp prisoners are first time offenders y aint they given a chance some thing needs to be done now dnt let famillys suffer

  9. Ms Justice
    November 2, 2011 at 11:43 am

    Stop these offender managers recomending IPP sentences left right and centre. The PSR report is supposed to loook at the ofender wholistically and not to throw away the key for crimes that do not warrant a life sentence.

  10. Donna clarke
    November 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    I really hope ken clark keeps his word to, my partner is doing an ipp sentance for a crime he did when he was 16! He had never been to jail before but yet was given a 5year ipp, how you can give someone so young a sentance like that Makes me sick, rapist and murders dont even get that long? he has now done 6years(and counting) and was knocked back on a parole for not doing a course that wasnt even run at the jail he was at! He has done everything asked of him by probation, etc while in jail and has done his time but yet they still wont let him out(or even to an open jail) i really hope somthing is done because this ipp sentance is just wrong.

    • julie houldsworth
      November 3, 2011 at 6:45 pm

      my son recieved a 15 month ipp he has served nearly 6 years he is currently doing the said course but has recently taken the parole board to court and should get his answer soon. Maybe others need to take this route.

  11. alan
    October 31, 2011 at 4:08 pm


    If anyone watched question time last week they would realise the
    state we are all in,
    labour mps trying to convince us they knew what the current sentencing guide lines were and questening ken clarkes proposel’s of scrapping ipp sentences and introducing two strikes and your out mandatury life sentences,they were actually accusing mr clarke of giving criminals a second chance,ofcourse the real crime is how this ipp joke was ever introduced in the first place,around 2001 this two strikes idea was spoken about being adopted from the states ‘where else’ accept their’s was three strikes, the charming michael howard and jack straw somehow working together were i believe responsible for this,jack straw being labour and in goverment and he who got this change in sentencing passed,how and why were these supposedly inteligent and forward thinking politicions able to get away with this pre victorion demonising,
    somehow the two strikes were forgotten and just the one needed to lock an offender away without a release date! Car above is on the money suggesting the court of human rights is the way to go, why the confusion over releasing already serving ipp’s past recommended tarrif’s? why not tagg these people on six month trials,surely keeping anyone locked up with no sign of release, year after year, knock back after knock back,will play with and affect the mind. hatred,revenge,remorse, guilt are all human flaws/assets we have,thankfully we do have them and they are built in us for a reason,let these poeple past their tarriffs out now and work out a way of defusing the already swithed on ticking time bombs and reverse potentially long term damage that prison,the justice system,endless lies and carrot dangling have done.

  12. jan
    October 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    One criminal act in an unblemished life and now in prison for as long as the whims of a group of people without the ethics decide. As Clarke states, the tools they are using to judge dangerousness do not work so its all down to how they feel on the day. They recommend courses after tariff dates have passed even though the courses have already been deemed unlawful. I pray for all the families with loved ones who have been given an IPP as I know they too are serving a sentence without a release date. Lets all hope and pray the existing IPPs are removed asap.

  13. Karen Knights
    October 27, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I too hope Ken Clarke keeps his word, I regularly visit someone in prison who is now three years over tariff. Having no idea of when he might be released has a devasting affect on both him and his family.

    Whilst the logistics of releasing 3000 prisoners into the community would clearly be difficult is it right that people should stay locked up just because no one knows what else to do with them?

    Ken Clarke should have the guts to ignore the pressures of the gutter press, parole board and the probation service and do what he knows to be the right thing. The only thing the IPP sentence has achieved is to earn lots of money for lawyers and fill up the prisons.

  14. CAR
    October 27, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I too hope Ken Clarke keeps to his word as this has been banded around for far too long now. Is it or isn’t it has been the way this argument has been going as many of the MP and Back Benchers do not have the balls to admit that this IPP sentence is abhorent and inhumane. I would like any one of these politicians to serve an indefinite sentence and see how it feels to never know if or even when you are to be released. The Court of Human Rights is the place we all should go to in an effort to definitely get this sentence abolished. I would welcome anyone who could help me start the ball rolling in this field. It is the loved ones at home who also serve these horrible sentences and what are these sentences proving to the children of these prisoners who go to visit their parent, uncle, grandad, aunty etc etc. These children are brought up to accept that it is OK to be in prison as my …….. is in prison and he/she is fine. They still see their loved one smiling and effectionate. Come on You Policitians, have you never done anything wrong in your life and been sorry for it. IPP’s are no way to treat a human being.

    • Bev
      October 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm

      I have lived with this for 4 years my son got a 14 month sentence and waited 3 years to do a course he had to complete 3 before he could dream of parole. He applied to do an Open Unucersity Degree to use the time constructively and prepare for his release – this opportunity wad blocked even though he paid fir the Course He has become addicted to Cannabis to cope with the psychological head ache of not knowing a release date murders and rapist have release dates! He is 24 with high blood pressure ! After almost 5 years he has not been taught a trade or trained in any thing vocational or knows how to deal with civvie life my fear is he will be institutionalised Probation police offenders it no longer has the intention or resources to rehabilitate I believe in restorative justice this has proven successful My tear away teenager has been turned in to a robot full of disillusionment and contempt for a society that doesn’t seem to have any common sense !

  15. brenda.jones
    October 27, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    hopefully ken clark keeps to his word and releases past tarriff ipp prisoners they have served there time in prison i know quite a few who are years past there tarriffs and are in open prisons going to work five days a then have a home visit go on home leave every month all they use the prison for is to sleep they buy there own food it is a rediculous inhumane law that must go we the families suffering every while are loved ones are kept in prison beyond there time
    B Jones

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