It seems that UK prison governors will call for the immediate release of 2,500 prisoners who were jailed indefinitely for the protection of the public (IPP) and have now served more than their minimum tariff.
Eoin McLennan-Murray, president of the Prison Governors Association, will describe the sentences as a “blatant injustice”.
TheOpinionSite.org sees this as a rare outbreak of common sense but the PGA are not alone in their opinion. Numerous legal commentators, judges, civil liberties organisations and even some prison officers have made the same case.
The police and the Probation Service, together with the ever vindictive tabloid press on the other hand, take the opposite view, preferring to maintain the risk-averse culture – from which they have been the principal beneficiaries.
The Ministry of Justice has promised a Green Paper in Parliament ‘later in the Autumn’ after the conclusion of the ongoing sentencing review. However, it will take a brave and strong government to bring this off, not least because many of those sentenced to IPPs are sex offenders.
The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection is identical to a life sentence except for the fact that ten years after release (if the prisoner ever makes it that far) a request can be made for the licence to be rescinded. The sentence is also unique in that people are kept in prison after the expiry of the minimum term set for retribution and deterrence not for what they have done but for what they might do in the future.
Furthermore, it is up to the prisoner to somehow prove that he is no longer a risk to the public, even though he has little or no chance of achieving such a thing due to lack of offending behaviour courses, closed-minded probation officers and a risk-averse Parole Board. Of course, he also has to do all this from inside his prison cell and without much, if any help from the prison authorities.
Mr. McLennan-Murray, president of the Prison Governors Association also pointedly pointed out that if the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke was successful in reducing the prison population as he has publicly stated, that would mean less prisons and less jobs for those dependent on criminals for their living.
The IPP, introduced in 2003, was a New Labour creation which had been supported by ever more excitable Home Secretaries, ignorant, vote seeking MPs, the tabloid press and the Child Protection Industry who used it to further fuel the child abuse paranoia upon which their incomes depend.
Judges over-used the sentence and Jack Straw, Clarke’s predecessor, was forced to modify the sentence in 2008 and remove its mandatory requirements. Nevertheless, more people than ever were subjected to this Kafque-esk sentence until we ended up with the current situation where 2,500 prisoners are passed their minimum sentence and are still in prison, principally because the Parole Board cannot cope and is, like the Probation Service who advises it, frightened to death of criticism for making the wrong decision.
Meanwhile, the tabloids go on doing their thing and continue to fuel the fires of panic and fear.
Clearly, a prisoner with an IPP cannot prove a negative and is therefore unlikely to be released. In fact, latest figures show that less than 6% of those sentenced under the measure have been released. Some of them have minimum terms of less than three years yet may be in prison for nearer 20.
The IPP is perhaps the very best example of the difference between justice and vengeance, Those who are intent on cashing in on public fear and who advocate locking up more and more people for longer and longer – and I include Blair and his police state colleagues amongst them – in order to stay in power, should understand that there is a thin line between protecting citizens and persecuting them.
Dictatorships throughout history have done well from incarcerating those despised by the majority.
The Blair administration should recognise themselves in the above description having invented more than 3,000 criminal offences during their tenure of government, doubled the prison population, introducing unlawful Control Orders, continuously increased the restrictions on sex offenders without putting those measures through Parliament, changing the Law to make it more difficult to challenge such measures and giving more and more power to quangos such as the Independent Safeguarding Authority, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection department of the police, the Probation Service and the highly dubious MAPPPA bodies.
They also courted the tabloid press, supported the NSPCC, Child Line and the like in their headline grabbing, fear mongering activities (which increased their income), infringed civil liberties on the grounds of so called ‘public protection’, leant on the courts and deliberately further reduced the legal rights of prisoners who were already in no position to defend themselves against injustice.
The end result was that the Blair/Brown government was unceremoniously thrown out of power at the last election – and, in our opinion, quite rightly so. If the public had wanted a dictatorship, they would have voted them back into power.
It is now up to the new coalition government to put right the savage injustices of the past, not least by supporting the prison governors (who know a thing or two about prisons) and by getting rid of this objectionable, inhuman sentence once and for all.
If they do not, they will have proven conclusively that they are no better than those the public have just removed from office.