The Truth About IPP Sentences

IPP sentence reform will only be possible if MPs are courageous

MPs must show courage and back IPP sentence reform

MPs must show courage and back IPP sentence reform

Despite the recent lull in hostilities, the ongoing conflict within government regarding the reform of IPP sentences and a prison sentences in general is set to continue for some time. As the government gets itself further embroiled in arguments about tabloid newspapers and their undue influence on policy making, the war over penal reform has taken more of a back seat. The result is that IPP sentences will continue for the forseeable future.

Actually, the current fracas over the tabloids in general and the News of the World in particular might be of assistance to the beleaguered Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke as he seeks to inject a measure of common sense into the criminal justice system.

Whilst the Sun andĀ other Murdoch papers are currently more inclined to keep their mouths shut for fear of criticism, it may well be that Clarke can make more progress than previously; always assuming that is that the Daily Mail does not step in where Rupert Murdoch presently fears to tread.

Mr. Murdoch however is not the only powerful figure opposed to Ken Clarke’s changes. Both David Cameron and the Home Secretary, Theresa May are fearful of changing sentencing policy as they both know full well that Tory backbenchers and right wing Labour MPs will come together in opposition.

May in particular is well aware of the political difficulties in store, particularly after her recent confrontation with the police over pay and conditions. The emergency legislation introduced on Thursday to overrule a controversial High Court ruling on police bail is indicative of the government’s sensitivities are being accused of being “soft on crime”.

Nevertheless, change is definitely required, if only in order that money can be saved. The UK has one of the most expensive criminal justice system in the world and dishes out longer sentences than any other country in the EU. The sentences are as long as they are purely for political reasons and generally speaking have very little to do with the notion of “justice”.

This situation has prevailed now for very many years as successive administrations have battled each other to show that they are tougher on crime than their predecessors. The British obsession with crime and punishment is part of Britain’s history and is based largely on the ignorance and misunderstanding of the public as to how the law works.

Regrettably, it seems that the British public are far more interested in revenge and retribution than they are in fairness and justice.

In the current conflict there are three main protagonists. Firstly there is the Treasury who desperately want to save as much money as possible; secondly, there is the right wing of the Tory party that regards being tough on crime as part of its “brand” and is anxious not to lose it; thirdly, there is a weak and ambiguous Labour opposition that knows not where it is going or what it is trying to achieve.

Kenneth Clarke is the man in the middle who has to try and balance the opposing forces against each other whilst still trying to make progress towards genuine fairness in sentencing and constructive rehabilitation of offenders. With both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary lining up against him, it is not an easy job to come up with a policy which is acceptable to all parties.

AsĀ has pointed out many times before, if it were not for the shortage of money, the coalition government would not even be considering changes to the criminal justice system and would instead be building more prisons and seeking to lock up more people for longer.

For those inside serving IPP sentences and for the families that support them, this is a confusing and worrying time.

Nobody knows exactly how the situation will pan out in the end. Everyone from judges, reform groups and liberal politicians know full well how unjust the IPP sentence is and that until now, they have been powerless to exert any meaningful influence in the face of loud tabloid opposition.

With MPs now in a unique position to stop cowering behind political privilege and fear of being exposed in the gutter press, it is hoped that at last we will see some true opposition to unjust and unfair policies from those who are elected to represent the public. It is a unique opportunity that should not be lost or squandered as it is highly unlikely to come again.

For very many years, MPs and ministers have been fearful of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire that has exerted such a disproportionate degree of influence on the way that criminal justice and penal policy has been formed. Tony Blair was in bed with Murdoch and so is David Cameron. Both are personal friends of Rupert Murdoch and both are equally sensitive to the fact that up till now at least, Murdoch had the power to bring any government and any prime minister to their knees.

The opposition of the Murdoch press to any changes to the IPP regime was used by the Labour Party to strengthen its position in appearing to be tougher than the Conservatives when it came to sentencing policy. Now, even the Labour opposition are wary of appearing to be illogical and under the thumb of the tabloids as politicians across the House of Commons begin to discover that they may not necessarily have to limit their thoughts to those dictated by the Sun and the News of the World.

Is it too much to hope that Kenneth Clarke will actually get his policy reforms through? It may be but, all things being equal we will now see a significant change in the balance between politicians and the tabloid media. The News of the World may currently be the newspaper that everyone loves to hate but it should not be forgotten that the Sun is its sister paper and is now also in the frame. The Times is also part of the same family but can at least be relied upon to portray a rather more sensible approach to populist measures introduced by the government.

We will probably hear no more about changes to IPP sentences or indeed of other reforms to penal policy until September when the House of Commons returns from its summer recess. During the intervening period many things may change with regard to the fear and apprehension of MPs as for the first time in living memory Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers find themselves under the spotlight and have their dishonest, disgusting and sometimes illegal activities exposed for all to see.

It is now up to politicians from all parties to come together and to take advantage of their new-found freedom of conscience. If they fail to do so, the cheap and tacky tabloids will once again reassert their false authority and influence over a weak and desperate political system.

On the other hand, if MPs have the strength to be honest and truthful, something which so far they have not been, then families of IPP prisoners and the prisoners themselves may at last and for the first time ever be on the receiving end of progress towards true justice and reform.

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One Response to IPP sentence reform will only be possible if MPs are courageous

  1. laura hood
    September 6, 2011 at 12:08 am

    hello my son is 23 yr’s he’s been in there for 4 yr’s on a 3 half yr taffie we are trying anythink and everythink to get the mp’s to hear us i belive everythink you say. My son say’s how everyone is walking on egg shell’s coz if it kick’s off will it stop like you said roit’s

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