The Truth About IPP Sentences

Continuing IPP failures force question in House of Lords

IPP prisoners are facing delayed release

IPP prisoners are facing unjust delays to their release.

As the nightmare of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) continues to cause chaos in overcrowded British prisons, the government seems to have come to a grinding halt when it comes to sorting out the mess created by the IPP sentence. Kenneth Clarke described it as being “a stain on British Justice” and the IPP has long been one of the most discussed issues on  Most of the British public however do not even know that the sentence exists and that makes the IPP a low priority for the government.

As a result of the delays in releasing IPP prisoners, in the House of Lords tomorrow the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord David Ramsbotham, is to ask the government exactly what it intends to do about releasing the 6,500 people serving the catastrophic, ill-thought out disaster of a sentence introduced by David Blunkett (on the instructions of Tony Blair) in order to satisfy child protection charities and crusading individuals.

The question relates to the lack of progress made by the National Offender Management Service prisoner co-ordination group.

The fact is that the government is between a rock and a hard place over IPPs. On the one hand, it has passed legislation to abolish the IPP sentence and has done so in the face of severe political opposition from right wing MPs on both the Conservative and Labour benches; on the other, it has not introduced a timetable for the removal of the sentence from British Law and has done nothing about the thousands of prisoners already serving the sentence and who are completely unaffected by the recent legislation. Furthermore, their release would cause chaos in both the probation and police services.

The delay in taking action is also predicated on political grounds. With Tory right wing, anti-Europe MPs already snapping at David Cameron’s heels over an EU referendum and reform of the House of Lords, it is hardly surprising that the government does not want to invite even more trouble – this time from both sides of the House – by releasing thousands of prisoners who have previously (and often wrongly) been described as “dangerous” back into the community.

All IPP prisoners are expected to go to a secure hostel or ‘Approved Premises’ when they are released on licence. During this period, which can often last for up to 18 months, they are observed and evaluated as to their behaviour in the community.

The evaluation is carried out by a Multi Agency Protection Panel (MAPP) convened under the MAPPA regulations (another New Labour invention) and is led by the Probation Service. If it is considered that the IPP prisoner is at any time showing indications of unsuitable behaviour during his licence – which is a minimum of 10 years in duration – he can be sent back to prison, even if he has not committed an offence.

As MAPPA meets in secret and the offender is not even entitled to see the evidence used against him, it is almost impossible for him (or her) to defend themselves against the often over-zealous and risk-averse nature of the police and probation officers involved in the decision making process.

The biggest problem for the government is that there are simply insufficient hostel places for the 3,000 IPP prisoners currently due for release. There are only about 2,400 hostel places nationwide and most of those are filled with offenders serving very long determinate sentences and which also have long licences attached.

The other main stumbling block is that prisoners serving IPPs cannot ‘prove’ that they will not be a future danger to the public until they are released. The only way open to them is to attend so-called ‘offending behaviour’ courses in prison. The courses are unreliable indicators of future risk and in any case, as with hostels, there are insufficient course places available.

It follows therefore that as pointed out some time ago, the release criteria for IPP prisoners would have to be “fudged” somehow in order to justify the decision by the Parole Board to free an IPP prisoner in the face of what are usually highly damaging, negatively biased and often incompetently produced probation and psychology reports.

One must also bear in mind that there is a huge backlog of cases waiting to come before the Parole board which in any event remains under-funded and under-resourced.

The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke had proposed a new, probation officer-free ‘release test’ for the Parole Board to use but, either due to the difficulty in producing such a test, the political fear of doing so or the monumental resistance put up by the Probation Service when the test was suggested, it has not yet seen the light of day.

This lack of action has resulted in no progress being made towards dealing with the thousands of IPP prisoners long overdue for release and who have no idea when – or indeed if – they will ever be freed.

It is obvious to anyone who is prepared to look at the evidence on IPP sentences that Blair and Blunkett actually intended that anyone serving an IPP sentence would never be released.

Whilst it is true that Blunkett has now publicly admitted in the Commons that the sentence “has not worked as intended”, he has also failed miserably to take responsibility for the disaster that he created and has certainly done nothing at all to help find a solution.

It should also be noted that apart from the IPP prisoners themselves, the real losers are their family and friends who are often left struggling to understand the realities of an IPP sentence (explained in my book, “How to Survive an IPP Sentence) and often at a loss as to what to do about the nightmare situation in which they find themselves.

It is no good MPs and other sanctimonious people blaming the prisoner either, usually with phrases such as, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”. The fact is that the offences for which an IPP must be given are laid down in Statute. As a result, the judge in the case has little option but to hand down an IPP even though he may believe that a long determinate sentence is more appropriate and more just.

Many marches, petitions and letters to MPs produced by worried relatives have simply resulted in the government ignoring the plight of those already serving IPP sentences because the problem is too politically sensitive. However, ministers should be commended for taking the difficult step of pushing through legislation to abolish the sentence – although ministers have not yet told anyone exactly when that will happen.

The problem is that the abolition of the sentence does not affect those already serving an IPP. must therefore caution anyone who mistakenly believes that progress on releasing current IPP prisoners will be swift. They should think again and understand that any progress will be slow. Difficult to accept, certainly – but the truth none the less.

The best the families and friends of those serving an IPP sentence can do is to learn about it and understand what the implications for them and their loved one really are, particularly with regard to the requirements for release and what to expect under the very tough post-custody licence that will be imposed if freedom is eventually successfully attained. believes the government will move slowly and cautiously on the matter of releasing IPP prisoners, always measuring the political temperature at every stage and always being wary of political attack from those who would prefer to keep all IPP prisoners (and others) locked up forever.

Do not expect too many IPP prisoners to be home for Christmas this year. Regrettably and short of a political miracle, their release is likely to take much longer than that.

(Discuss this issue further in our Forum)

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15 Responses to Continuing IPP failures force question in House of Lords

  1. Merryam
    August 19, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    My brother was charged with a 3 yr sentence for fighting and was also given ipp, he was supposed to be released about 5 yrs ago and keeps getting refused parole. His probation inside and outside have recommended release but his physiology lady said he is dangerous ? Not sure hw she has come to this conclusion as in the 9 years he’s been in prison he has had no fights always enhanced done all the courses recommended. Is der anyone who can help get my brother out as he has jst been refused parole again last week and has 28 days to appeal it.

  2. car.lovedones.
    August 20, 2012 at 11:04 am

    My son is currently serving a 7 year IPP sentence. On his reports is says his sentence is 99 years. Nobody seems to know this but all IPP sentences are stated as 99years and it is at the Parole Boards whims if and when they are released. The post licence laws are abominable and makes it almost impossible to stay the goody goody that is expected. In fact you would have to be a saint to stick to the rules, regulations and constant checks sometime multiple checks on a daily basis. Sometimes no alcohol etc etc. Very hard rules to live by for 10 years. The thing that is riling the IPP prisoners now is that foreign IPP prisoners(european mostly)when they reach their tariff they are automatically released and given circa £500 and transported back to the own country.They are not put on licence when the are repatriated and live a normal life. Our IPP prisoners do not have the option of being automatically released on reaching their tariff. Is this victimisation of our OWN Nationals serving IPP sentences. WHY do our own British prisoner not get released automatically on reaching their tariff?? this is unfair and unjust, just as the IPP sentence is. Very few British prisoners get out on their tariff and some remain in prison for many many years after their tariff. Where is the FAIR AND JUST LAW FOR ALL ???
    Does anyone know when the next march to support total banishement of this dusgusting, immoral and in breach of the human rights of an IPP prisoner.

    • Martina
      August 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      Go to the ippcampaign prisoners website. A girl called “Amanda” along with others are doing their best to get thi unjust sentence scrapped.

      • Raymond Peytors -
        August 24, 2012 at 3:18 pm

        Editor’s note: The date for the implementation of the major parts of the Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act which repeals the sentence is April, 2013.

        Whilst the IPP sentence should be repealed at that time, the plight of those already serving IPP sentences still remains and existing IPP prisoners will continue to serve out their sentence. It is also the case that until April, 2013, judges will still have the IPP available to them and will no doubt continue to create more IPP prisoners,

        There is no confirmed news yet from the government regarding the proposed new “release test” promised two years ago. This new test, if it ever comes, may enable existing IPP prisoners to be released more easily. than at present. Meanwhile, the Labour party and right wing Conservative MPs are making it as difficult as possible for the government to carry through its IPP reforms. – Editor

    • lesley vann
      September 5, 2012 at 10:59 am

      Yes i only learned from my Son about six months ago that being an IPP prisoner he has got 99 years on his cell door. You may have or must have noticed that there is always a different law or get out of jail card for foreigners. But you are racist if you say anything. Apart from that who ever is in prison whether it like me my beloved Son, someones husband, partner if their probation officer does not get on with them or does not like them or if the Police do not like them what chance do they have of ever getting out of prison and being back with their loved ones. The authorities do not care as long as they are going on nicely in their jobs. Filling out paperwork and putting words in that are not true , because lets face it who are the biggest criminals. I will tell you it is those that govern this country with their lies. yes they can go on merrily merrily and make laws up at will. I remember Tony Blairs son being out of his face on booze and all he got was a slap on the wrist and it all hushed up so we never know really what these people are hiding in their lives. None of us can be perfect we are not JESUS! And Tony Blair should not sit in judgement look at the Soldiers he sent to war to be murdered shouldn` t he be doing an IPP sentence and all of those in goverment that were behind it. Lets be realistic who causes more murders than this goverment and previous ones.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    i have been to prison and have friends who are doing ipp sentences. i think this is a cruel sentance because it not only affects the familys as well , the prisoners are well over their tarrif and at a certain point they just give up and iv seen them deterate before my eyes. something needs to be done it is inhumain.

    • lesley vann
      September 5, 2012 at 11:08 am

      My Son has lost the look on his eyes since he lost his dad last September he still always expects him to walk in on a visit with me and i see he is a changed person he used to have a lovely sense of humour and disposition. He is such a loving kind person “I know i am his mother”, but he as all IPP`s does not have a date to look forward to and he used to self harm so i worry about that to what with him suffering 4 types of epilepsy. It is an absolute disgrace this IPP and so are the idiots that bought it in to law

    July 31, 2012 at 11:33 am

    The government should start releasing ipp prisoner’s who are way over their tariff how are they supposed to prove they have changed if they are not given the chance. The ipp sentence is against their human rights and the right for a family life. The government has to realise the effect on the families and prisoners who have no idea when their loved one is going to be released. This creates stress which can eventully lead to mental illness. The time to change the system is now not in a couple of years, before any more families are ruined.

  5. Roz
    July 10, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Part of the problem is that the ‘Lock ’em up and throw away the key’ faction shout so much louder whereas the ‘thinking’ people are less prone to jumping up and down, swearing, and shouting the odds. The pen might be mightier than the sword but it leaves a much smaller impression.
    As Alana says, out of sight, out of mind and that’s where the politicians would like to keep IPPs and many, many other prisoners.

  6. lynne
    July 4, 2012 at 9:46 am

    Our son has just been granted his release by the parole board, after we have fought for 4 years since his last parole hearing and have had no fewer than 7 deferments, it has been exhuasting. he was sentenced to 18months and has now served 7 and half years for an offence that would be at most a 2 year sentence if he were arrested today and he would not be on a life licence which he will be on when he comes home from hostel.But we are just thankful to be getting him home at last, and hope that he can pick up the pieces of his shattered life. I agree with Jenny that people just do not know and when I explain where my son is and why they are appalled but most of us relatives choose to say nothing because we are to scared of causing further difficulties for our loved ones when they are inside.

  7. Helen
    July 1, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I totally agree, Jenny, and also with Raymond for another of his excellent articles. I have a folder full of copies of my letters to and responses from the local MP, Crispin Blunt et al at the Ministry of Justice. All of them keep on about all these ‘dangerous’ people, and defending the methods used to ‘treat’ and monitor them. Nothing about people, like our son, who shouldn’t really have got an IPP, as his minimum tariff was less than 2 years. On Radio 4’s Law in Action, I heard Jack Straw admit this was due to a ‘mis-drafting of policy’! Yet, 5 years on, we are still waiting for our son to be released. I cannot emphasise how awful this situation is. Please, anyone who has any doubts about the unfairness of the IPP, and would like to ask a question about its affect, post your opinion here, and I will respond.

    • Susan
      July 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm

      I totally agree my son also got a 20 month tariff he also is in his fifth year.
      He has now been sent to Gartree a prison for life sentenced prisoners.
      That says it all.

  8. alana
    July 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Times may change but British politics don’t, its just given a new packaging design from time to time.
    When this country was looking to rule the rest of the world, and was growing in strength by the blood of those incarcerated by the chains of slavery, nobody gave a damn then either, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Perhaps if people had been given a chance to see with their own eyes, the suffering caused, or maybe had been able to have sailed down wind of one of these ships carrying its cargo full of rotting flesh, then just MAYBE slavery might have ended even sooner than later, ask any member of the public today, have they ever visited or spoken to an Ipp prisoner in jail? your question will be met by a string of questions, and that person will inevitably form there own conclusion. However, it would be most interesting to see how their conclusion may differ if you actually took that person to speak with an Ipp prisoner face to face. The opinionsite is correct in saying nothing is going to happen, or change for some time to come. OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND.

  9. Jenny
    July 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    The problem is that so few oridinary people care about IPP prisoners, even when they know about them, that the government sees no point in risking political damage.

    Most British people don’t give a stuff about prisoners until it happens to them.

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