I would like to correct a widely repeated mistake about the indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP), to the effect that it was “applied far more widely than intended” (‘Psychological torture’: call for reform after jail death, 10 January). I am the former head of policy in the Prison Service, and was involved in the creation of the sentence.
IPP was the invention of David Blunkett in 2001, against the advice of officials. He rejected the scheme for violent or sexual offenders proposed in a Home Office review of sentencing (Making Punishments Work), namely a determinate sentence with a review of the release date by the Parole Board, and a supervisory period that could be extended by the court.
Instead he mandated the IPP and it was applied precisely as intended and as set down in statute, with all the consequences that officials pointed out at the time. Most importantly, its application was mandatory upon the courts on a second conviction for a sexual or violent offence, however minor the actual behaviour. One of its first uses was where a man had squeezed a woman’s breast at a bus stop, and had a previous similar conviction: the court was obliged to impose an IPP. All the problems that have come to pass were glaringly apparent in that conviction.
• The mental anguish inflicted on nearly 2,600 people serving the discredited and now abolished IPP is indicated in the shocking self-harm rates for this group. IPP prisoners are more than twice as likely to self-harm as people serving determinate sentences, with 872 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 IPP prisoners – a rate that has more than doubled over the past five years. In advice to ministers published in 2016, the Parole Board set out policy options for expediting the release of the remaining IPP population, as well as dealing with the growing problem of IPP recalls.
Without further legislation the board estimated that more than 1,000 IPP prisoners will remain stuck in the system by 2020, eight years after the sentence was abolished. Proposals for reform include conversion of IPP sentences into their equivalent determinate sentence, which could start with those on the shortest tariffs who have experienced the greatest injustice, and improvements to the licence conditions and support available to IPP prisoners on release. The government should finish the job it started and eradicate a stain on our justice system once and for all.
Head of policy and communications, Prison Reform Trust
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