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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Lorna elliott llb hons - Barrister & sponsor for ipp prisoners campaign & petition Prison Law, Criminal Law - Contact 02071932444

Campaigning for the abolition of the IPP sentence and for release of all those currently serving IPP.

More than 2500 people in prison today are stuck behind bars, post-tariff, and who yet are still without any clue as to when they will be released, or how they will ever prove that they can be released. Approximately 500 of these prisoners are two years post-tariff or more. A lot of these 500 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. IPP prisoners are terrified to step out of line, don’t feel they can stick up for themselves, and are petrified of making themselves look in any way ‘dangerous.’

We’re not suggesting that there are no dangerous offenders who deserve IPP sentences. 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.

The Parole Board is massively over-stretched, and its decision making (for perhaps understandable reasons) is extremely cautious. The programmes that IPP prisoners are required to access aren’t available to them, and in any event once an offender has the ‘dangerousness’ label the onus is on him or her to prove that he isn’t dangerous anymore.

The Prison Reform Trust published its long awaited report on the IPP sentence, entitled ‘Unjust Desserts’ in July. The report cites not only the considerable cost implications of the IPP sentence, but also the wider cost of social injustice and the lack of confidence that results from the unfairness and inconsistency in the IPP regime. Unsurprisingly the report found that more than half of all IPP prisoners have ‘emotional wellbeing’ problems, and had ‘relatively high suicide rates’, as well as finding themselves stuck in a ‘vicious circle’ when it came to accessing risk-reducing courses: the more IPP prisoners there are in the system, the harder it is to access courses and prove risk reduction.

The report concludes that there is an urgent need for the government to review the sentence, and puts forward three main suggestions for reform: firstly, abolition of the IPP and reverting to the use of the discretionary life sentence; secondly, narrowing the criteria for IPP sentences so that less people are given IPP, or thirdly, finding sufficient resources to make the sentence effective and fair. If the government decided to implement the first or second proposal, the report states that there would be a need to decide whether any amendments would be retrospective.

Eoin McLennan-Murray, the President of the Prison Governors Association, welcomed the PRT report and called upon government ministers to review the IPP sentence. He said, ‘Day in and day out, Prison Governors and their staff are placed in the invidious position of having to try and defend the indefensible.’ Branding the IPP ‘absolutely inhumane and unfair’, he said that the sentence ‘totally undermined the fundamental principle of fairness for a significant proportion of the 6000-plus prisoners currently serving this sentence.’

The Chairman of the Parole Board, Sir David Latham, recently told the BBC that he considered that many prisoners were spending longer in jail than necessary, labeling the system for indeterminate sentence prisoners as ‘grotesquely unfair.’ In particular he said that the current system was too heavily focused on risk-aversion, and that no one had thought through the consequences for IPPs since the introduction of the sentence in 2005.

Crispin Blunt has commented that the previous Government had to reform the IPP arrangements in 2008, and that the current Government had inherited ‘a very serious problem’ with IPP prisoners. He said, ‘we have 6,000 IPP prisoners, well over 2,500 of whom have exceeded their tariff point. Many cannot get on courses because our prisons are wholly overcrowded and (they are) unable to address offending behaviour. That is not a defensible position.’

Lorna elliott .

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