Ken Clarke damned has as ‘absurd’ the policy of keeping prisoners in jail beyond their original terms despite having scrapped indeterminate sentences back in 2012.
As justice secretary, Clarke had abolished Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences in May 2012 under the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. At the time, he called indeterminate sentences a ‘stain’ on the justice system.
‘It is quite absurd that there are people who might be there for the rest of their lives, in theory, who are serving a sentence which Parliament agreed to get rid of because it hadn’t worked as anybody intended a few years ago,’ Ken Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday in an interview in which he described prisons as ‘overcrowded slums’.
The senior Conservative criticised the ‘ridiculous burden’ on the Parole Board of ‘saying they can only release people if it’s proved to them that they’re not really a danger to the public’. Clarke said: ‘No prisoner can prove that – you never know when people are going to lose their control, what’s going to happen to them when they’re released.’
‘You have a few thousand people still in our prisons with no idea when they are going to get out and a parole board that dare not let them out for fear of public attack if one of them does something serious when they said they were satisfied that they were safe. You can’t be satisfied.’
Introduced in 2005, the IPP sentence was meant to show New Labour’s ‘tough’ approach to serious offenders. The sentences were intended to protect the public against criminals whose crimes were not serious enough to merit a normal life sentence but who were regarded as too dangerous to be released when the term of their original sentence had expired. An offender was considered dangerous if the court assessed that there was ‘a significant risk to members of the public of serious harm occasioned by him of further specified offences’.
There were problems from the start. In 2007 a Government green paper (Prisons with a purpose) noted that many IPP prisoners could not find places on the requisite courses deemed necessary to show that they were no longer a danger to the public.
As reported on the Justice Gap, the UK now has more than 4,000 offenders languishing in prison on open-ended IPP sentences despite the sentence being scrapped. You can read other articles on the scourge of IPPs via the link (here).
The Today programme featured the case of James Ward, who in 2006 was given an IPP sentence with a ten month tariff and who is still in prison with no release date (here).
‘I find prison hard to cope with, being trapped in a box. Prison is not fit to accommodate people like me with mental health problems. It’s made me worse. How can I change in a place like this? I wake up every morning scared of what the day may hold.’
Earlier this month the justice secretary Michael Gove announced a review of IPPs. ‘We must not compromise public safety but there are a significant number of IPP prisoners who are still in jail after having served their full tariff who need to be given hope that they can contribute positively to society in the future,’ he said.
- There are currently 4,133 people in prison serving an IPP sentence;
- Four-fifths (81%) of people serving an IPP sentence are still in prison despite having passed their tariff expiry date;
- Of those who have been released, on average they were held for 44 months beyond their tariff; and
- 1,353 people are still being held in prison five years or more beyond their tariff, including 143 people held between 8 and ten years beyond their tariff.
The Lord Chancellor has the power to change the release test for IPP prisoners—but this power has yet to be used.
SOURCE: Prison Reform Trust
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award