(Use the search box to the left for updates and much more on IPP sentences or click here for more information)
After the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke unveiled his Green Paper on Sentencing and Prison Policy this week, we are all left wondering what, if any changes will be made to the current system, particularly with regard to the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP).
TheOpinionSite.org shares the view of the Prison Reform Trust that the IPP should be scrapped and consigned to history. Meanwhile, right wing Tory MPs, the child protection lobby and victims groups are all screaming in pain and suffering trauma at the very thought of this appalling piece of penal legislation being tampered with in any way whatsoever.
The IPP is regarded by most sensible people as being a total disaster. Hugely over-prescribed, impossible to administer, probably unlawful and put in place by the discredited Home Secretary, David Blunkett to satisfy the Sun newspaper and noisy child protection zealots, all of whom have a vested interest in keeping the fear of sex offenders, wife beaters and other violent criminals in the public mind.
Clarke has proposed, sensibly, that the IPP should be used only where the convicted person would receive a sentence of at least 10 years. This figure is not necessarily what it seems however.
For example, the Justice Secretary has also proposed giving a discount of 50% on a sentence if the accused pleads guilty at the police station, the earliest opportunity for him to do so. Therefore, someone who would be likely to get a sentence of say 14 years could have that halved to 7 and thus be well outside the criteria for the IPP.
That is not a bad thing in the view of Theopinionsite.org as very many of those currently serving IPP sentences were given them because the judge had no choice but to use the sentence, thanks to completely inflexible ‘guidelines’ laid down in Statute. Many IPP prisoners are not violent or dangerous at all. Clarke has therefore proposed getting rid of the guidelines and giving judges much more discretion.
Sara Payne moaned, “We have spent years campaigning for IPPs”. So what?
A long campaign does not make it a just sentence; nor does it mean that it is right to lock people up until they can prove that they are safe to release when everyone knows that it is impossible to do that in the confines of a prison. Hence the fact that under the proposals a new ‘release test’ will be designed so that the Parole Board can make a genuine and validated decision as to whether someone is still a risk or not.
It is a pity that the same test will not be applied by small minded probation officers when it comes to considering whether or not a person on licence should be recalled to custody.
IPP sentences are applied to convicted sex offenders more than any other group of convicted persons. Clarke was careful not to point this out in his Green Paper and equally careful not to mention the fact in his statement to Parliament. To do so would have been to admit that the sentence was simply a populist response to campaigners like Payne and others. Such an admission would be to expose the myth that the IPP sentence received proper scrutiny and criticism prior to its introduction when everyone knows that actually the opposite is true.
Theopinionsite.org believes that if someone is truly dangerous they should receive a life sentence, not an IPP which is the same thing in all but name but was introduced to force a life sentence even where the evidence did not warrant one. A true example of the British following the US administration in its quest to incarcerate more and more of its citizens for longer and longer.
Clarke has 12 weeks to consider submissions to his consultation. Theopinionsite.org hopes that many of the families and friends of those serving IPPs will contribute to that process.
Responses to the consultation can be submitted directly through the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk, via email to email@example.com or by post to Breaking the Cycle, Ministry of Justice, 10.08, 10th Floor, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ.
This is a once in a generation opportunity to get rid of this appalling law or at least reduce its use significantly. Make sure you have your say, whichever way you feel.