The Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) was first implemented in 2005 following its introduction under the Criminal Justice Act of 2003. The purpose of this sentence was for it to be handed out to offenders convicted of a crime of either a serious sexual or violent nature and one which deemed them to be considered of significant risk to the public. The sentence being indeterminate means that the court on sentencing will set out a tariff which in most cases is equal to the half way point of the equivalent determinate sentence. The tariff is the minimum amount of time that the offender must serve before even being considered for release by the parole board. There is no set release date. Projections at the time of implementation were that maybe a few hundred of these sentences would be handed out. Yet as of March 2012 there were 6,017 IPP prisoners.
Problems became apparent almost from the offset. In 2007 the green paper Prisons with a purpose mentioned that ‘the prison service should try and deal with prisoners before the end of their minimum tariff’ and the fact that many IPP prisoners can neither get onto the requisite course in their current prison nor be moved to another prison where a particular course, deemed necessary for the prisoner to show that they are no longer a danger to the public, is available’. If they are able to obtain a place on a course, first they go a long waiting list. This problem has not been addressed and has in fact escalated due to the number of IPPs required to do these courses and they are simply not available to them.
The Justice Secretary showed that on 8th October 2007 the amount of post tariff IPP prisoners was approximately 400; this was 0.5% of the then current prison population. Recent figures however show that over 3,500 are post tariff, almost 5% of today’s total prison population – an increase of almost 800%. Some tariffs have been known to be set as little as 28 days. Approximately 1,100 of these prisoners are two years post-tariff or more.
In 2008 issues were raised in parliament and subsequent amendments were made which set out a new statute changing the minimum tariff allowed to be two years.
Yet at present there are still almost 1,255 who wouldn’t have received an IPP had they been sentenced after July 2008, but to this day remain in custody with little hope of release. What makes this particularly unpalatable is the fact that those who are sentenced for similar offences after July 2008 are given determinate sentences, behave badly and are released anyway, while those sentenced pre-July 2008 are left in jail.
Further changes are in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 where the IPP has been abolished and replaced by a more understandable sentence structure. However, once again, nothing has been done to address the situation for those already serving. The Parole Board is massively over-stretched, and its decision making (for perhaps understandable reasons) is extremely cautious. There has been mention of a new release test but all we are told is that the Government will consider the use of the power to change the release test if it proves a necessity once the situation is reviewed as and when the new sentencing law has been bought into force.
Yet there is still no clarity as to what this will entail. And in any event once the offender has the ‘dangerousness’ label the onus is on him or her to prove that he isn’t dangerous anymore.
When looking at current statistics some positive movement can be seen. Between the introduction of this sentence in 2005 and 2009 only 49 prisoners had been released, then in 2009 this figure rose to 53, in 2010 it was 97 and then in 2011 it was 300. Other factors that demonstrate this can be seen in the fact that at present there are 617 IPP prisoners in open conditions, almost 300 prisoners are waiting for transfer to open conditions, approximately 15% of whom had their transfer approved by the Secretary of State without referral to the parole board (via the process described in the case of Guittard – see HERE). Some 20% of those waiting transfer to open conditions are pre-tariff IPP prisoners. It is therefore possible to deduce that that IPPs are indeed moving through the system more quickly than in previous years and perhaps this creates a glimmer of hope for pre-and post-tariff IPP prisoners who remain in closed conditions.
So what about those serving who are nowhere near the point of recommendation for either open conditions or release, or those who are post tariff and have no idea which way to turn next? We’re not suggesting that there are no dangerous offenders. There are undoubtedly offenders in prison for whom the ‘dangerous’ tag is entirely warranted. It is natural to understand how these prisoners should show that they can work on reducing their risk so that their threat to the public can be adequately managed before they are released. But that does not change the fact that the system, as it currently stands, is completely unfair. None of this actually tackles the real issues that these prisoners have to face on a daily basis and the inherent uncertainty created by this sentence.
We have composed a questionnaire which we are hoping to circulate to as many current serving IPPs as possible. The purpose of this is to be able to gather the necessary information from those currently serving, which will then give us clear examples provided by IPP prisoners as to how the current system is failing them. Once all the information has been collected, it will then be formatted as part of an impact statement to be presented directly to the Secretary of State and also the Justice Committee. It will also give us the opportunity to highlight through their own individual experiences that something needs to be done and needs to be done now. Things are indeed moving in a positive direction all be it incredibly slowly.
You can download that questionnaire HERE.