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Justice Committee finds IPP sentences “irredeemably flawed” and calls for comprehensive re-sentencing programme

28 September 2022

The Justice Committee has called on the Government to re-sentence all prisoners subject to IPP sentences. In a report published today, the Committee finds that the current regime for managing IPP prisoners is inadequate in supporting their specific needs and calls for swift improvement in the quality of support they are given.

IPP sentences were introduced to prevent serious offenders being released when still a danger to the public. Despite being scrapped in 2012, nearly 3,000 people remain in prison having been given an IPP sentence. In some cases, individuals have been imprisoned a decade beyond the tariff for their original sentence which could be as low as two years or less. 


Under the IPP sentencing system, release is based on successful rehabilitation and prisoners no longer being deemed a risk to the general public. However, the Committee has found that inadequate provision of support services inside and outside of prison has led to a ‘recall merry-go-round’, with almost half of prisoners currently serving an IPP sentence having been released previously. 


The Committee finds that IPP sentences cause acute harm to those subject to them, with the prospect of serving a sentence without an end date causing higher levels of self-harm as well as a lack of trust in the system that is meant to rehabilitate them. 


The report calls for all prisoners currently serving IPP sentences to be re-sentenced, with an independent panel appointed to advise on the practical implementation of what is likely to be a complex task. It further calls for the current time period after which prisoners can be considered for the termination of their licence following release to be halved, from ten years to five. 


Chair's comments


Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill said: 


“IPP sentences were abolished a decade ago but little has been done to deal with the long-term consequences on those subject to them. They are currently being failed in a prison system that has left them behind, with inadequate support for the specific challenges caused by the very way they have been convicted and sentenced. Successive Secretaries of State have accepted that change needs to happen but little has been done. The decision must be made once and for all to end the legacy of IPP sentences and come up with a solution that is proportionate to offenders while protecting the public. 


We appreciate that establishing a resentencing exercise will be administratively complex. That is why we have called for time-limited small expert committee to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise in conjunction with the senior judiciary. 


There must also be adequate support systems put in place to ensure prisoners are prepared for their release and given the right support to reintegrate into the community.  


We do not underestimate the complexity of this undertaking, but after a decade of inertia the status quo cannot be allowed to continue.” 


IPP Overview 


Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences were introduced in 2005 for serious offenders who were deemed to pose an ongoing risk to public safety but did not merit a life sentence. In practice, anyone convicted of any one of 96 serious violent or sexual offences who had also a previous conviction from one of a list of 153 specified offences was liable to an IPP sentence meaning that they could be imprisoned indefinitely beyond their minimum jail tariff. 


IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, however there are still 2,926 people imprisoned under IPP sentences, including 1,434 that were recalled to custody having been released. 608 have been in jail for over decade beyond their original tariff, including 188 who were originally imprisoned for two years or less. 


IPP prisoners are subject to acute challenges. The psychological impact of an indefinite sentence leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair, resulting in higher levels of self-harm and suicide in the IPP population. Prisoners also feel distrust towards the people and services necessary to support rehabilitation and secure their release.


Current support for IPP prisoners 


The Committee is concerned by the lack of impact of the Government’s current action plan for dealing with the unique challenges faced by IPP prisoners. It finds the IPP Action Plan lacks clear strategic priorities and ownership to ensure they are delivered. It calls for a new action plan to be developed to provide greater detail on how IPP prisoners are to be managed and supported, setting out timeframes for delivery and performance measures to ensure standards are met. 


At present, provision of offender behaviour programmes and interventions, designed to change attitudes and behaviours that can lead to reoffending, is poor. There is also concern that they are failing to deliver the outcomes they claim and there is a lack of transparency over how these programmes are evaluated. Given the central role successful completion of these programmes plays in the Prison Service and Parole Board assessment of prisoner risk level it is vital that they are accessible and effective. 


The Committee calls on the Ministry of Justice to work with the Prison Service to ensure that there are sufficient places on courses to ensure access for all who need them. They should also publish what work has been done to assess the suitability of current rehabilitation pathways, and set out how they plan to improve delivery where inadequate outcomes have been found.


Release and recall 


There are concerns that resource issues in the Probation Service and the Parole Board are leading to frequent delays, high staff turnover and inadequate training for board members. There can also be a lack of clarity and uncertainty around next steps following a negative parole decision. The Committee calls on the Parole Board to ensure that people serving IPP sentences are prioritised and only fully trained and experienced board members involved in their cases. 


At present, once an IPP prisoner is released they will be subject to licence conditions and risk returning to prison if any of these conditions are breached. The licence term for IPP prisoners is in place for life, but can be terminated at 10 years. It can act as a barrier to the rehabilitation of offenders and be detrimental to their mental health. The length of the licence period may also be disproportionate to the offence for which they were convicted. The Committee welcomes the introduction of an automatic referral for the licence period to be terminated but additionally calls for the qualifying licence period to be halved from 10 years to 5 years. 


According to most recent figures, 1,434 of 2,926 current IPP prisoners have been recalled to custody following a release. The Committee finds that much greater priority needs to be given to ending the return of IPP prisoners to jail and ensuring that they are able to live productive lives once they are initially released. 


The Government should examine why recalls are taking place and establish a framework that ensures recalls are only used as a last resort. Probation staff should be encouraged to use alternative measures as much as possible, including adjusted reporting requirement, curfews or electronic tags.


Resentencing IPP prisoners 


While it is clear that current processes for managing IPP prisoners are inadequate and need to be improved, on their own, the changes the Committee has recommended will not be sufficient to deal with the fundamental problems caused by IPP sentences. The Committee finds that IPP sentences are irredeemably flawed. It calls on the Government to bring forward primary legislation that deals retrospectively with the continued operation of the sentence and initiates a resentencing exercise for all individuals currently subject to them, both in prison and released on licence (except for those who have successfully had their licence terminated).  


This will be a difficult, complex exercise and will require care to get right. The Committee recommends that a time-limited small expert committee be established, in conjunction with the senior judiciary, to advise on the practical implementation of the resentencing exercise. 


The Committee recognises that resolving the IPP problem will not be easy. It recommends that the approach taken by Government and Parliament should be guided by three key principles. First, it must balance ensuring protection of the public from the risk of further serious offences being committed against ensuring justice for the individual offender. This will require adequate resourcing to be put in place to support offenders’ reintegration into the community. Any measures designed to protect the public from violent or sexual offenders should also follow current sentencing models. 


Second, the independence of the judiciary must also be maintained during the resentencing process. Judges must be able to make a fair and independent assessment of the individual circumstances of each case and have discretion to determine an appropriate sentence. Finally, any resentencing exercise must be constrained by the general principle that a person should not be subjected to a heavier penalty than that which applied when they committed the offence.

Further information

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