The Truth About IPP Sentences

IPP sentence – what it is, where it came from and how it works

There seems to be a great deal of confusion amongst the general public as to what exactly an IPP sentence is. News organisations, including the BBC, often report that someone has received an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) but never actually point out what it is or what it means.

Worse than that, tabloid newspapers such as the Sun consistently report such sentences incorrectly, claiming that the defendant has received ‘5 years‘ when in fact the convicted person has been convicted to a minimum of 5 years and may in fact may never be released.

Below is a recent article from Subscribers Newsletter (sign up here) which explains the IPP in detail, its origins and its possible future.

We hope that this will inform people as to the truth of what is possibly the most criticised, inhuman and unjust sentence ever introduced into the UK criminal justice system:

The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP)

What it is, where it came from and how it works

What it is

The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection is a cleverly devised piece of legislation introduced by the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 2003 that is designed to imprison sexual and other ‘dangerous’ offenders for life, without the need for the evidence to actually warrant the imposition of a life sentence.

However, an IPP is a life sentence in all but name. It has the same structure as a life sentence, the same criteria for parole, the same limitations on the offender and the same difficulties, in that a prisoner has to try and prove that he is no longer a danger to the public if he is to stand any chance of release. Should he achieve release, he will be on licence for life and subject to recall to prison at any time for any reason. No evidence is necessary for a recall, only the ‘feeling’ of a probation officer.

The only difference from a life sentence is that 10 years after being released, an IPP prisoner can apply for the licence to be rescinded. As the sentences were only introduced in 2003, this obviously has never been tested but most lawyers agree that it would be unlikely that the licence would be ended without a change in current public protection protocols.

It was intended that very few IPPs would be given each year. There are now nearly 7,000 people serving indeterminate sentences.

The IPP is a very typical New Labour “knee jerk” policy put in place in order to secure cheap votes, which it did with great success at the general election following its introduction. Sex Offender Prevention Orders, Foreign Travel Orders and Risk of Sexual Harm Orders were all introduced on the same basis and secured support for Tony Blair’s government from many tabloid reading voters.

Although there was enormous controversy at the time, MPs soon realised that to criticise the measure would incur the wrath of the Murdoch owned tabloid papers and the political annihilation that came with it.

In the end, the bill went through Parliament more or less unopposed with only a handful of MPs present. Unusually though, probably for the same reasons cited above, the House of Lords did little to amend the Bill during its progress.

The result is a piece of law that has failed to achieve its objective, has dramatically increased the prison population and is an embarrassment to the new Coalition government that now seems lost as to how to deal with the mess created by the discredited former Home Secretary, David Blunkett who created the thing in the first place.

Where it came from

As stated above, the IPP was introduced by the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 2003. The former Home Secretary, David Blunkett was largely responsible for the drafting of the original bill and for steering the measure through Parliament. It is perhaps not insignificant that he was also responsible for the now highly criticised and very one-sided US-UK Extradition Treaty. (See next month’s newsletter – sign up here)

The IPP was aimed primarily at sex offenders and was the result of heavy and sustained campaigning by Sara Payne, the mother of Sarah Payne, the little girl who was murdered by a convicted paedophile, Roy Whiting. Mrs Payne received the backing of two Murdoch owned tabloid newspapers, the News of the World and the Sun, both of which are well known for their anti-paedophile protests which have generated huge profits for both publications.

It is likely that a deal was done with Blunkett as he was granted unlimited coverage in both newspapers to his hard-line stance on many aspects of Law and Order, most of which are now acknowledged to have been solely designed to secure populist support for Tony Blair and New Labour.

We should not be surprised at Blunkett’s approach as at the time of his appointment as Home Secretary, he promised to “make Jack Straw look like a liberal”. He clearly had no interest in Justice as such and was purely interested in promoting his own popularity; which he did successfully until he was forced to resign for abusing his position as Home Secretary by manipulating a passport application.

The reasons given to Parliament to explain the necessity for the IPP were vague to say the least. The whole of the CJA 2003 was supposedly designed to ‘modernise’ the classification of sexual offences and the IPP was part of that process. The Act was full of contrived measures which manage spectacularly to contradict other pieces legislation introduced by the same Blair government!

For example, any form of non-consensual penetration, including oral sex, was to be regarded as rape. A ‘child’ was redefined to include anyone under the age of 18, even though in 2000 the age of consent had been equalised for both male and female parties at 16 years of age. Buggery was no longer to be an offence if both parties consented and were over 16 but this was not the case if one party was in a position of trust and over 18, in which case the offence could be Rape, except where there was a recognised relationship…and so on.

This mess of legislation is one of the most badly conceived and badly drafted laws ever put on the Statute Book” according to one senior member of the new Coalition administration – all of whom nevertheless voted for it.

It was proclaimed that the IPP was necessary in order to keep ‘dangerous sexual offenders’ in jail permanently, even if the evidence did not satisfy the trial judge that a life sentence was necessary.

This is of course a further contradiction. If any offender is ‘dangerous‘, the trial judge has always had the ability to issue a Discretionary Life Sentence for the protection of the public. IPPs were never actually necessary in the first place and were purely a piece of political posturing.

As judges were amongst the first to criticise the idea of IPP sentences, Blunkett made sure the sentence was bound to be handed down by removing any genuine discretion from the trial judge. If the defendant was found guilty of one of the 100 or so listed offences, the Act ensured the trial judge was obliged to hand down an IPP unless there were ‘exceptional’ circumstances.

Although the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause made the Act lawful in British courts, no judge was ever going to use the provision as to do so was bound to result in an appeal by the prosecution. No judge likes to be appealed on a sexual offence conviction.

Blunkett created over 100 offences that could be covered by an IPP, most of which related to sexual offences; some violent offences were also included to try and demonstrate that the measure was credible and was not simply the result of a tabloid vendetta against sex offenders; many lawyers however believe it was, in fact, just that.

It is certainly true that IPPs were and are issued primarily against those who abuse ‘children’ (those under 18). Very few are given to other types of offenders, including offenders who rape adults over 18.

How it works – or not

The fact that the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke is currently carrying out a review into the IPP is a clear indication that the Coalition government recognises that there is a problem.

However, to be fair we must also accept that the Labour justice secretary, Jack Straw also recognised that the sentence was not working in the way that was originally intended and even tried to do something about it.

As with life sentences, the IPP sentence is split into two parts; the ‘relevant’ part – the punishment – often called the ‘tariff‘ and the non-punitive part which is supposedly for rehabilitation and risk reduction. In theory, once the tariff is completed, the offender can apply for parole. It is unlikely he will be successful on the first, second or third attempt. He may apply once every 2 years.

Because judges were obliged to pass an IPP if the offence was one ‘prescribed’ in the CJA 2003, the tariff was often very short; the shortest was less than 3 weeks.

As has pointed out previously, this meant that many IPP prisoners were serving technically short sentences yet being denied the opportunity to ‘progress’ due to the lack of offending behaviour courses, delays in parole hearings, inefficiency in the prisons and lazy, disinterested probation officers.

Straw fought hard in the courts to try to avoid making changes that would upset the tabloids. He lost every case and every appeal until finally the House of Lords – at that time the highest court in the land – ruled that his policy was contrary to the Human Rights Act. The judges described the inability of prisoners to progress as “appalling”.

Straw changed the policy so that IPPs could only be given where a tariff of at least 2 years was justified. Meanwhile, all those already sentenced would stay in prison.

However, there is still no guarantee that the offender will be released or when that might be and he will have to jump through hoops for a long while before he stands any chance at all of convincing the Parole Board that he is safe to release.

An IPP is a life sentence in all but name. It has the same structure as a life sentence, the same criteria for parole, the same limitations on the offender and the same difficulties, in that a prisoner has to try and prove that he is no longer a danger to the public if he is to stand any chance of release. He has to do this whilst being locked up in prison and is largely dependent on reports written by often ill-informed an not very bright prison officers, biased probation officers and psychologists who are unqualified trainees; the Prison Service cannot afford to employ fully qualified Clinical Forensic psychologists.

If, as in most cases with IPP sentences, the offender is convicted of a sexual offence, it is even more difficult for him as, unlike other lifers, he is unlikely to be allowed town visits or home leave and this makes it even more difficult for him to prove his reduction in risk to the public.

So far, less than 6% of IPP prisoners have been released, regardless of tariff. Ken Clarke has said that he has “no intention of letting thousands of dangerous people out onto the streets” but is committed to reviewing the IPP sentence.

He has recognised that in order for IPP prisoners to be released, there has to be less reliance on reports from probation staff and psychologists and is proposing to create a new “release test” that the Parole Board can apply, possibly independently, to all release applications.

This proposal will not go down at all well with those currently responsible for advising on the suitability of a prisoner for release. They enjoy the power they have and will be extremely reluctant to relinquish it. Nevertheless, a formal measure of suitability for release is essential if more indeterminate prisoners are to be released in a manner that satisfies the critics.

As has recently reported, Clarke is up against very real opposition to his plans from right wing Tories, the child protection industry, prison staff, probation officers, the police and of course, the tabloid press, particularly that owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The consultation is open until March. Once that is concluded, Clarke will have plenty of scope to water down his reforms if he or David Cameron think that they could be politically damaging. Any changes that are made are likely to take years to implement.

Sadly, the bad news therefore is that anyone currently serving an IPP should not expect to be released any time soon unless there is a severe and dramatic change in political will.

Ken Clarke has a lot on his plate at present with the IPP, the voting rights of prisoners, a review of the Sex Offender Register (another problem for many IPP prisoners) and, following the ruling last April by the Supreme Court, the introduction of a mandatory review process to enable registered sex offenders to apply to come off the register.

We at wish him luck. He’s going to need lots of it.

23 Responses to IPP sentence – what it is, where it came from and how it works

  1. briony92
    April 29, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Hello all, my brother was sentenced to 2 years 14 days for burglary. Almost 8 years on he is still in prison. He has served nearly four times his tariff. I have set up a petition for my brother and all of the other poor people serving these horrific IPP sentences to be freed. Please help by clicking on the link.

  2. Kim
    April 28, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Please sign this petition as we believe in IPP being retrospective!!!

    Many prisoners are treated inhumanly, being held in custody for years far after their tariff has expired. I started this petition to change the structure of IPP. It will give prisoners a final date for their release. It is important to give them, as well as family and friends a date to look forward to.

  3. bonnie
    October 9, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Hya my boyfriend has been ipp for near 9 years now he has been told he is allowed town visits from December then home leave from february,,,can someone please tell me how much town visits he will get a month?? And he’s got his parole in June to see about his release,,,after reading this comments on here I’m not so sure he will now get granted parole,whats,the chances??? He’s done all the correct courses been on good behaviour??,please help :(((

    • Raymond Peytors -
      October 9, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Editor’s Note:

      More information, support and advice can be found in our members forum. Please CLICK HERE for more details. – Editor

  4. lilly
    August 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    hi, my brother has an ipp and has being in prison for 5years now he got 9 and half years. since he has being in prison he has being told that he has a mental illness and has being put on meds. we(my family) have tried to get him into a hospital as he is really unwell. bout two years before his crime he was in a mental unit for two weeks but the doctors couldnt find anything wrong with him,said it was too much stress of being a student at uni and discharged him without any follow/check up. he went back to uni. one night him and his girlfriend got into a fight and he assaulted her really badly.apart from this he had never being in trouble with police. what hurt me the most was not understanding why the judge gave him an ipp as this was his FIRST offence. if he has mental problems and at the time of the crime he wasnt well and untreated why give him an ipp? as a family we are working hard to get him the help he needs but no one seems to care or want to help. he has his perol coming but all his mental health files has being quote ‘lost’.he has done all the courses he needs to do and now just feels helpless as he has done his time but still in there.. it was him that asked me to get all the information on ipp i couldnt find anything helpful but i thank god i came a cross this site! you have opened my eyes to so much and am counting down the days until the book comes so i can send it to him. THANK YOU

    • Jenny
      August 19, 2012 at 10:12 am


      If you really want your eyes opend, get How to Survive an IPP sentence. It shocked me but gave me so much information that nobody else would or could. You download it and you can print it out. Just click on the picture of the book at the top of the page. Good luck.

  5. ny
    April 19, 2012 at 10:51 am

    my boyfriend is currently serving a 8 year ipp for wounding with intent he has served his tariff and is now into his 5th year he has finally managed to get onto the last course that he has to complete before he can go forward to the parole board. ipps are a joke i recognise that people have to expect sentences to fit their crimes but judges are handing these out like sweets and not seeing the mess they are causing in all honesty i dont think my boyfriend will be home for at least a few years as from what i have read people seem to be serving at least a couple of years on top of their tariffs. i just hope that when they do release him he will be able to access services that will help him better his life and to make the changes he needs

    • Raymond Peytors -
      April 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

      Editor’s note:

      Generally, judges only pass down IPPs when they have no choice. This is the major problem with IPP sentences; judges have almost no discretion as to when an IPP should be given. Thank the previous Home Secretary, David Blunkett for that.

      You should koin the Forum and add your opinion there. Many would be interested to share it. You can join, free, by clicking HERE. – Editor

  6. J Blake
    November 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    My partner is facing an IPP for serious sexual offences which he didnt commit. He has never been in trouble with the law throughout his 49 years, and we are shocked and sickened that he was found guilty by 12 people who were not privvy to all the background to the case due to Prosecution parlour tricks.
    How can it be right that he can be accused on a statement alone, with no evidence except words, charged and sentenced to practically a life sentence? His accuser is boasting of getting compensation for 30 minutes ‘work’ on the stand.
    There is something seriously wrong with the judicial system in this country, if we allow the case to get to Court in the first place, to have to prove his innocence instead of being proved guilty, and then to add to the nightmare, an IPP is looming ahead, instead of a Judge determining the outcome by their own discretion? I hope to God that nobody else has to go through the stress and trauma that my partner, myself and our Family have been, and are going through.I wouldnt wish it on my worst enemy, except maybe my partners accuser, as he is the one who needs locking up.
    Each case should be judged on its own merits instead of a sweeping sentence for all, run by over-worked, under-paid, and ill equipped probation officers. Get rid of the IPP for everybody’s sake. It doesnt work.

  7. Ms Justice
    October 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    A probation officer recomended in her PSR an IPP for a non violent and first time offender.
    She decided after a videolink interview that although he has never physically harmed anyone he was a danger to the public. There and then she wanted to take his life away.Luckily the judge was wise enough not to follow her inhumane proposal.
    This sentence is against human rights. If the crime warrants a life sentence then so be it, otherwise hand out appropiate sentences and stop these heartless individuals throwing away the key!

  8. kelly bendall
    October 11, 2011 at 10:56 am

    My Boyfriend Has AN IPP Sntence Of Four And A Half Years..He Is Still Inside 5 Years On I Was 16 When He Was Sentenced To Ipp Im Now 22 I Really WAnt Him Home Now Why Is It So Difficult He Is Not AT All A Bad Person Just WAs Going Through A Really Bad Time And Was Drug Useing..Since Jamie Recieved His Sentence He Has Kept His Head Down And Done Everything Right He HAs Never Been Involved In A Fight And Thats What He Is Inside For I Want To Know How I Can Help Him And Appeal Against This Ridiculous Sentence Apparently It No Longer Exists? Then WHy Does My Boyfriend Still HAve To Go Through This Nightmare We Have Both Been Waiting Forever To Be Together And Start A Family

    • Jenny
      October 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm

      Get a copy of the IPP Survival book at the top of the page. It’s the best 7 pounds you’ll ever spend. I got it and learned so much that I have now contacted my son’s probation officer and got him onto the courses he needs for release. I could not have done that without understanding how it all works. Everyone should have a copy of this book if they have someone inside with an ipp. Mr Peytors has been so helpful as well, even after I bought the book. I wish you and your boyfriend well. Jenny

    • Raymond Peytors -
      October 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

      Just to make it clear, the IPP does still exist and will continue to do so. What the government is proposing is a change to the conditions under which it is handed down by judges. – Raymond Peytors, Editor

  9. Graham
    July 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    I bought your book on How to Survive the IPP. Thank you so much. My son and I now understand what we are up against and what must be done. I have searched every site for this information, official and otherwise but to no avail. Now we have your book I feel my son has a fighting chance. Thank you again.

  10. Bob
    July 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Good stuff in general, and congratulations on trying to explain the origins of IPPs, which no site I’ve been able to find ever has. You’ve certainly got the Blair-Blunkett populist axis right. But given the supposed emphasis on sex crimes, how do you explain the first 707 IPPs awarded after April 4th 2005 being given for the folowing crimes: 28 for crimes against children, 40 rapists, 44 arsonists, 149 for wounding, 284 for mugging. Even given that many of these would probably have been given for a second offence ( from the mind-blowing list of 153 crimes – most of them sexual – Blunkett invented ) as opposed to a single ‘serious’ crime (with a minimum tariff of at least 10 years) an IPP could also be awarded for, it seems unlikely that the 477 arsonists, wounders and muggers would all have committed a second (sex) crime. Moreover, up-to-date stats taken from the Prison Reform Trust’s 2010 report on IPPs, ‘Unjust Deserts’ show sexual crimes up to December 2009 accounting for only 23-30% of IPPs, while robbery and violence against the person between them account for over 50%. You had a good idea, but haven’t followed it through. (I’m currently writing an article which discredits the whole IPP system, so don’t misundestand my motives. I’ve seen what it IPPs do to people.)

    • Raymond Peytors -
      July 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Thank you for your comment. Any offence, regardless of its designation would, at the time to which you are referring, have carried an IPP if it could be shown that there was possibly a) a sexual motive or b) any form of sexually aggrevated circumstance. Such is the obsession in the UK with sex crimes. For example. those convicted of murder are now regularly assessed for suitablilty for SOTP on the basis that murder involves power over others and could be sexually motivated. Other violent offences have also acquired a similar mode of warped thinking from the authorities. Although the sentence would still be a violent offence, any sexual element will have been taken into account and, if necessary, suggested. This is very convenient for the authorities as on release, sexual offenders are subject to much more extensive monitoring than most violent offenders under the MAPPA regime and it is almost impossible to challenge such monitoring, even if it is not actually necessary, as the courts are reluctant to get involved in such matters. You may find my book “How to Survive an IPP Sentence” enlightening. You can purchase it at

      • Tash
        March 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm


        I have stubbled across your website whilst researching any updates on the IPP debate.

        I am a solicitors who specialises in prison law, particulary IPP sentenced prisoners who are going through the parole process.

        I find it very interesting that you, Mr Peytors, are advising people that those convicted of Murder are regulary assessed for SOTP on the basis it could be sexually motivated. I can confirm this is wrong. In my 5 years of practise, I have never once come across a convicted murderer who has been required to undergo assessment for SOTP. As a sex offender, you are lucky if you get to this stage alone due to exhaustive waiting lists and stringent eligibility criteria. Admittedly, if during trial if was identified that the murder or violent offence had a sexual element/motive then this would be the only case in which SOTP may be recommended. I just wanted to clarify that point.

        I would advise all IPP sentenced prisoners to seek the advice from a reputable law firm. I am not here to advertise and shall remain anonymous but I feel it really can significantly help. Most prison law firms can assist under legal aid.

        • Raymond Peytors -
          March 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm

          Thank you for your comment. I wish to make the following quite clear in order that there are no misunderstandings:
          !. does not offer Legal Advice; we offer an opinion.Nothing more, nothing less. (Please see our Terms & Conditions)
          2. The reference to non-sex offenders (including those convicted of murder) being referred to SOTP, is well-sourced. Sources, like yourself, remain anonymous.
          3. We always advise visitors to the site to consult a solicitor where it is appropriate to do so.
          4. We have two respected firms of solicitors advertising on the site, both firms being exceptionally well qualified to handle IPP matters.
          5. Whilst you may be correct in clarifying what should happen, this is not always what occurs in practice.

          Thank you again for your comment to – Editor

  11. Alissia
    February 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    If the changes to the IPP sentences will not be retrospective, then do the 6000+ prisoner currently caught in this indeterminate sentencing know when they will get released?. I don’t think so!!! because then there would not be so many Probationary Officers or Parole Officers required. The Government is cutting jobs in all areas and yes, 3 prisons have closed but in the main all the prison staff are going to keep their jobs on the back of these poor souls who in many ways are forgotten and can easily disappear in the system if they have no one on the outside to care about them or fight their corner. Shame on all of the Government bodies who support the IPP system I hope one day one of your members of the family are caught up in this neverending nightmare that not only sentences the convicted but also the family to include children. You would not keep animals caged up for years and years on end. It would appear that human life is worthless. The other problem and missuse of IPP (with the exception of peadophiles who fully deserve the IPP’s) they are not supposed to be dealt out for a 1st conviction but you will find on many occasions the judges just hand them out like smarties. If the system is to be used then use it as it was intended and not just give by the judges just because they can!! and because it gives them a feeling of power. The lord is slow but these judges who deal these sentences out have to face their keeper!! What a burden to bear!. How many lifes of people’s families have these IPPs effected who serve a life sentence with their loved ones.. Go back to the old way of sentencing by giving definite termed sentences to fit the crime. Some prisoners are being given the same sentance as murderers for a much less crime. This is an ABHORENT and INHUMANE way of dealing with human beings. If animals were treated like this and caged up indefinitely there would be an public outcry. What has happend to our judicial law. English Law used to be considered fair not like that now. You are considered GUILTY UNTIL YOU PROVE YOURSELF INNOCENT in this country. Shame on you all. I would like to lock you all up in a room together for life and see how you would feel about that. The changes should be retrospective and if the law was to be fair then this would happen

    • Raymond Peytors -
      February 23, 2011 at 7:19 pm

      We will be publishing an article assessing the likely outcomes of the IPP reforms shortly.

    • louise
      August 10, 2012 at 1:14 am

      I don’t agree. My ex boyfriend is due to be sentanced for breaking my eye socket. He was violent and aggressive throughout our relationship and made my life hell. He’s also been to prison for assaulting his own mother to the point were she was black and blue. He’s just turned 22 and has been to prison about 17 times. I’m not safe when he’s not in prison and neither are other people who get involved with him. I could only hope that he would get an ipp sentance as maybe then all the people he’s scarred for life could start living there’s instead of being controlled by this voilent nasty piece of work.

  12. Merlin
    January 30, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    This is the first time I’ve seen the IPP explained in a way that everyone can understand. If the papers were to explain it like this, people would stop complaining that sentences are too short. I suppose thst’s why they don’t. I signed up for the newsletter as well, which I should have done sooner. Can I get back issues?

    • Andromeda -
      January 30, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      Glad you found this helpful. We don’t usually supply back issues as things change so much. However send an email to and we’ll make a link available for subscribers. We regret that our free newsletter is only available to subscribers. New visitors can subscribe at the top of the page, free.

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