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Friday, 6 April 2012

The Opian site recently received more reports that prisoners subject to an IPP sentence

Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection) are unable to achieve their release because the Prison Service is still failing to provide the necessary number of offending behaviour courses. IPP prisoners must complete specified courses if they are to have any hope of ever being released.

Just after the 2010 general election, prisons minister, Crispin blunt 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.

Two years on, the current situation appears to be even worse than it was before. With average prison numbers at an all time high, IPP prisoners are often sent to inappropriate establishments where the necessary courses are not available or are told that they will be ‘made a priority’ for their particular course, only to later discover that they have not actually been included on the list at all.

There have even been occasions where a prisoner has sent to a particular prison for the express purpose of completing a specified offending behaviour program and is then transferred to another establishment, usually without a reason being given, shortly before the course begins. He then often discovers that the course is unavailable in his new establishment.

In any of the above circumstances, it can be another two or three years before another place on the appropriate course becomes available. That is another two or three years unnecessarily spent in jail.

Reliable reports that where a prisoner’s case has been the subject of high profile media attention, the probation and prison services then insist that he undertakes additional and often unnecessary courses before they will even consider recommending his release. The end result is that an IPP prisoner who has a ‘tariff’ (the minimum time to be served) of 3 years may very well find himself serving nearer 10 years or longer behind bars for no good reason.

The government has claimed that it wishes to reform the British criminal justice system. It has announced that it will in fact scrap IPP sentences altogether and replace them with long, determinate sentences.

It has consulted, reviewed, consulted again and drawn up new legislation. It has done all this and yet there are still over 6,500 IPP prisoners, 3,000 of which are well past their tariff and are still in jail because they are forced to undertake courses that are not being provided.

The worst thing of all is that nobody can actually provide independent evidence to show that these courses work. Any ‘evidence’ has either been produced by the government itself or by sources in other jurisdictions – notably the US – where the culture, psychology and makeup of individuals is completely different to Britain anyway.

It is the fact that many of the most contentious courses, especially the so-called Sex offender Treatment Programme, are not used so much as a means of rehabilitation but rather as a method of risk assessment. A good idea one may think, except that reliable sources inside the prison system have made it clear that if the ‘assessment’ is positive and indicates that ‘no further work is necessary’, this positive assessment will be ignored. As a result, additional courses in prison and upon eventual release are always specified as part of release criteria.

This is a way of ensuring that the massive numbers of prison staff, probation staff and police officers involved in ‘protecting’ the public can be maintained and their employment guaranteed.

Some may find that a cynical view but, in truth, It would be a brave politician indeed who stood up and expressed the view that millions of pounds paid by taxpayers every year are being wasted on meaningless courses, the highly secretive and unaccountable MAPPA system and other procedures  that cannot be proven to actually improve public protection at all.

As all the above measures are shrouded in secrecy, it is impossible to verify whether the methods employed by the authorities in order to ‘protect the public’, ‘assess risk of reoffending’ and to ‘safeguard children’ are effective or not. We are all simply supposed to take the word of those who themselves benefit greatly from being involved in the running of the system.

The Coalition has pronounced that the new measures relating to IPP sentences – that they will be replaced with long, determinate sentences – will not apply to existing IPP prisoners. Thus, 6,500 prisoners will be unaffected by the ‘reforms’ to the system and will remain in jail until they can – with great difficulty – somehow ‘prove’ that they are no longer a risk to the public.

Meanwhile, as the legislation containing the reforms, the ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill’  has again been defeated in the House of Lords, this time over some of the cuts to Legal Aid, the horse-trading will inevitably begin in order that the government can get the new law on to the Statute Book by the time of the Summer Recess.

This gives those who are against IPP reforms – and there are significant numbers of them – the opportunity to derail the government’s plan to scrap IPPs and also distracts attention away from the very real problem of what to do about those who are already serving the sentence that was described by the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke as being “…a stain on British Justice.”

As stain on ‘British Justice’ it may very well be but, if the government does not either provide more courses or alternatively change the criteria for release, many thousands of IPP prisoners will still be being held unjustly behind bars next year, the year after and for the foreseeable future.

In fact, if the term ‘British Justice’ is to retain any sense of its original meaning at all,  believes that whatever the cost, embarrassment or criticism that may come the government’s way, the increasingly out of touch David Cameron and his Cabinet must realistically address the issue of those IPP prisoners who are over-tariff and who are still in prison.

Almost every sensible and reasonable person, lawyer and judge (notably not policeman, prison officer or probation officer) believes that the IPP sentence is and always has been an unmitigated disaster. It is a politically driven sentence introduced for purely political reasons by David Blunkett in order to suck-up to the Sun, News of the World and child protection charities.

According to the original estimates given when IPP sentences were introduced, there should today be about 900 IPP prisoners. Instead, there are 6,500 and the figure is still rising. How much more of a disaster does the government want? What real action is being taken to solve the problem?

believes, sadly, that actually the government doesn’t care about the injustice that continues to take place. What it does care about however is the negative reporting that may be directed towards it should real solutions be put in place.

The sad truth is that, as previously stated, the IPP sentence is and always has been a ‘political’ sentence. It looks very much as if it is destined to remain as such and that makes it very difficult, if not impossible for the government to fix the problem without being accused of ‘going soft’ on crime, something that David Cameron is simply not prepared to do, now or ever.

March 29, 2012
Raymond Peytors


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