The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) has received a lot of attention from visitors to TheOpinionSite.org, as do most matters relating to Criminal Justice and the Law.
It is probably worth reminding ourselves why the former and later discredited Home Secretary,David Blunkett introduced this appalling measure in the first place. The reasoning behind his decision tells us a great deal about how politicians of all persuasions use serious offenders, particularly sex offenders, as a political football in order to gain votes and thus cling to power.
Let us say first that people who commit serious offences probably deserve to go to prison. One can argue about what ‘serious’ actually means but for most people, if someone seriously hurts someone else in some way, that is a good starting point for the term ‘serious’. (If you disagree, let us know by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org)
After the murder of James Bulger and then Sarah Payne, the mothers concerned decided to lobby public opinion and to put pressure on the Government of the day to bring in more and more stringent measures against alleged sex offenders.
Whilst this was understandable at the time, there was a huge flaw in the argument that children were at risk wherever they went. The suggestion that children are most at risk outside the home is recognised by most authorities as being totally incorrect. Most abuse, of whatever type, takes place in the home and is carried out by someone in or known to the family concerned.
The concentration of all child protection legislation since Bulger and Payne has been on the supposed danger to children from strangers, rather than from family members or close friends. Governments don’t like attacking families because it costs votes and newspapers don’t like attacking families because it costs profits.
Consequently, most child abuse at home still goes either undetected or unreported whilst statutory authorities concentrate hugely expensive resources on those who have already offended in the mistaken belief they are almost certain to offend again, even though the evidence shows the exact opposite.
On the other hand, successive Home Secretaries and often zealous, men-hating female MPs have used the issue of child protection to get almost anything they want through Parliament, usually with little or no scrutiny and almost always taking advantage of the fact that nobody wants to be seen to be raising any objection, no matter how reasonable, to any measure designed to ‘protect children’ for fear of being criticised. They certainly do not wish to raise such views in public.
When David Blunkett was appointed as Home Secretary he famously proclaimed that he would “…make Jack Straw look like a Liberal”. That in itself should have warned us that Blunkett was a man who cared only about himself and would use any device, mechanism and opportunity to achieve his political ambitions – regardless of the greater consequences.
On hearing Blunkett’s outrageous claim, the veteran and highly respected MP, Tony Benn intimated that he would love to run up to Blunkett with dynamite strapped to his own chest and give Blunkett a big hug. Some may suggest that it is a pity that he didn’t do just that.
Blunkett’s approach to his job was simple:
He knew that, second only to the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary is probably the most powerful person in the country. Blunkett, like his predecessors and successors since, was determined to be the most powerful Home Secretary of all. Furthermore, as a confirmed supporter of Blair and his American masters, Blunkett had no problem falling into line by, for example, signing the now infamous Extradition Treaty with the United States that penalises his own fellow citizens whilst protecting those of the US. Thus we see the measure of the man.
Little wonder then that he felt no guilt over giving in to the purveyors of child protection paranoia – including the Sun newspaper – by bringing in the IPP sentence. Furthermore, he knew full well that by doing so he was opening the door to injustice on a huge scale, an injustice that was further exacerbated by the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 which listed a hundred or so offences for which judges were expected to pass an indeterminate sentence, regardless of the particular details of the case.
Instead of the few hundred IPP sentences expected to be passed, there have in fact been thousands. More than 15,000 people are now serving life or indeterminate sentences in the UK, more than in all the other EU states put together.
The ill-fated Jack Straw tried to put matters right when he was made Justice Secretary but failed – and failed miserably.
Blunkett eventually got kicked out after personally intervening in a passport issue for his own personal benefit but by then the damage was done. Charles Clarke, John Reid and the obnoxious and totally discredited, expense fiddling
Jaqui Smith all discovered during their respective tenures as Home Secretary a wonderful truth:
You can do anything you want and get everything you want in Parliament as long as, whatever the objective may be, it is prefixed with the words “..in order to further protect children”.
The madness continues to this day and so called ‘child protection’ has been used to influence decision making with regard to cigarettes, alcohol, health and safety, traffic cameras, CCTV, parenting, education, sport, employment and goodness knows what else.
With almost every job now requiring a Criminal Records Bureau check and with the dreadful Vetting and Barring Scheme still under review, not to mention the all powerful NSPCC, Childline, Kidscape, Barnados, the leaderless CEOP and all the other money making outfits reliant on child abuse being kept high on the agenda, it is not surprising that any measure that could harm that very vocal lobby is likely to meet fierce and very public criticism.
Make no mistake; ‘Child Protection’ is a huge industry in the UK and part of that industry consists of the thousands of people employed to manage, supervise, interview and ‘treat’ those on IPP sentences.
Whole prisons have been re-designated as sex offender institutions, others have been designed for violent offenders serving IPP sentences. Millions are spent – and generated – every year as a result of the public fear created by those with vested interests.
All of the above is supported by the further imposition of IPP sentences. That is not the worst of it though.
Those unfortunates who are subject to an IPP have an impossible task. In order to be considered for release, they somehow have to PROVE that they will not re-offend in the future.TheOpinionSite.org makes the point that it is impossible to prove that you are NOT going to do something.
In other words, they have to somehow prove a negative, do so whilst in an entirely artificial environment AND achieve this while whole ranks of bigoted, badly trained, generally inexperienced and over-zealous probation officers, thick prison warders and trainee (yes, trainee) psychologists find ways to keep them in prison.
Probation, police and prisons against review
If an IPP prisoner is released – and very few ever are – they are on licence for at least ten years and can be recalled to prison if ‘it is felt’ (not proved)that their behaviour is giving cause for concern. This is assessed by the Probation Service and MAPPA who have no interest in supporting the offender, only in policing him. However, after TEN years of this licence, if the offender has not already been recalled, he can apply to have the licence removed. Such an application is almost bound to fail however.
No application has never been made and such a consideration is almost wholly determined by the view of a probation officer who may or may not know anything about the person concerned, other than what is contained in what are almost certainly inaccurate and heavily biased previous reports written by ‘professionals’ who often could not be any more unprofessional if their lives depended on it.
Probation officers, policemen and prison officers are all getting ready to fight any review in order to safeguard their jobs. Prison governors have said already that if prisoner numbers are reduced, especially long term prisoners, then prisons will close and jobs will be lost.
Probation officers love long licences; such measures keep them employed. 40% of offenders on licence are recalled to prison, many unnecessarily and are then released on licence again so that the whole sequence starts all over again. This enables the Probation Service and the Police to claim that they need more staff in order to supervise ‘dangerous’ offenders.
Ken Clarke is aware of all this and seems determined to do something about it.
All of these points have to recognised and addressed by any review of Indeterminate Sentences. Any progressive measure will be attacked vigorously by the hugely powerful child protection lobby and women’s groups, the tabloid press and right wing MPs.
TheOpinionSite.org hopes that Ken Clarke, together with the Justice Minister Crispin Blunt and others have what it takes to repair the damage done by Blunkett and his power hungry successors.
It is bad enough to have such an obnoxious and repellent piece of legislation as the IPP on the Statute Book in the first place; it is far worse to allow it to stay there for that will demonstrate only that those in power are unable to recognise and repair a travesty of justice whilst also proving that they are too weak to speak the truth.