The Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke today announced that the Government are still consulting with regard to the review of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection otherwise known as IPP sentences.
It was expected that Mr Clark would have already announced the results of the review following publication of his Green Paper earlier in the year. As TheOpinionSite.org has previously pointed out, the IPP sentence is a political nightmare and given the choice the government would delay publishing any results of the review for as long as possible.
Nevertheless, the numbers of people receiving IPP sentences and being sent to prison for many, many years continues to increase despite measures undertaken by the previous Labour administration to try and lessen the numbers of those receiving IPP sentences. The modifications introduced by Jack Straw when he was Secretary of State for Justice have made very little difference.
Meanwhile in the European Court, there are numerous cases regarding IPP sentences waiting to be heard. Each one of these has the potential to cause an even bigger problem for the government. It is not just a matter of the number of people who are past that tariff and yet still imprisoned but it is also a matter of political nervousness for the government as so many of its own backbenchers are against any type of reform of sentencing.
Given all these factors it is not surprising therefore that the government is trying to delay any meaningful statement on the future of IPP sentences. This of course does not help the families of those imprisoned nor does it help the individuals themselves who are fighting a losing battle against the Prison Service and Parole Board.
Current government thinking seems to be heading in the direction of a 10 year minimum determinate sentence being the threshold for the imposition of an IPP sentence. This however is not necessarily a good idea as judges have in the past used thresholds imposed by Statute to increase the sentence that they would otherwise have given.
If an individual is given a 10 year sentence, they will receive markedly different treatment from the Prison Service, the police and the Probation Service both in custody and upon release compared with an individual who received say a nine-year sentence.
Politically imposed sentencing boundaries have never been successful in the past and there is no reason at all to suggest that they will be any more successful in the future.
Meanwhile, Kenneth Clarke is well aware that there are many in his own party who are vehemently against any progressive or constructive reform in regard to prison sentences at all.
Most conservative numbers of Parliament still believe that anyone sent to jail should be left there to rot indefinitely.
According to the latest studies though, this is not the view of the public but, as with so many other issues at present it seems to be the view of the politician that prevails rather than the view of those that they allegedly represent.
TheOpinionSite.org believes that it will be some time yet before we know what the government is going to do about these iniquitous sentences. David Cameron does not want to be seen as “soft” on crime and nor for that matter does his deputy, Nick Clegg.
It is a sad political fact of life the that whenever a government tries to move forward on penal policy, it is usually its own backbenchers who start causing problems.
When the IPP sentence was originally introduced by Tony Blair’s government it was anticipated that at any one time there would never be more than 900 people serving such a sentence. Today there are over 6,000 and half of these are well over their recommended tariff and should have been released years ago.
As the government tries to do deals with the Parole Board and at the same time satisfy the blood-lust of the police, Probation Service, the tabloid newspapers and its own backbenchers, the unfortunate recipients of what is surely the most appalling sentence ever handed down in a British court are powerless to do anything about the situation.
In many ways, it is even worse for their families who feel even more helpless when it comes to helping their loved ones who are behind bars.
The government is currently balancing on a knife edge with regard to matters of law and order, prisoners rights and human rights in general. It will not want to do anything or put forward any proposal that is likely to result in further damaging an administration that is already regarded by many as lacking credibility.
Whilst government continues to delay however, those imprisoned who should have been released some time ago are still stuck there with little hope of release. We can only hope that David Cameron and his government will not delay much longer in putting forward proposals that in any event may take years to put into practice.