Following the decision in Osborn and the unprecedented increase in Parole Board reviews, a considerable amount of interest has been generated in the national media regarding IPP sentences.
Of course, this interest must be applauded and any pressure which can be applied to finally curtail this monstrous piece of legislation should be welcomed. However, there are other prisoners in the estate who to a significant degree can find themselves understandably frustrated by the spotlight being set on IPP and at the same time leaving them in the shadows. They are those imposed an automatic life sentence between 1997 and April 2005, essentially for a second offence for one of 11 very serious offences, commonly referred to as the 'two strikes and you're out' sentence.
The history of such punitive periods for lifers started when life sentences were introduced in 1983 by the then Conservative administration. This was amongst other things as a result of the policy of "Three Strikes system" in the United States. However, the philosophy of US penal policy is somewhat different from that in the European Continent. The ideology and driver behind the US "Three Strikes system" is in my belief based upon the fundamental US premise that 'rehabilitation doesn't work', which means lock criminals up forever or kill them; both options are ridiculously expensive.
However, the European ideology is essentially one of working toward rehabilitation. The UK wants to go down the US system but realises it is too expensive, (even with the savings it can make with contracts to the private sector) and at the same time it has to contend with the European Courts and therefore it is limited from going the whole way.
In short, although in recent months the public and media attention has been focused that IPPs are a bad idea and the implementation of them was ill thought out, the reality is that the fundamental model of sentencing policy is not fit for the purpose of what one would hope is a modern enlightened and pragmatic penal system. Sadly, the current administration would appear to have contempt for the whole issue of prisons in relegating the minister in charge to an unpaid role, I am given to understand. There is a saying, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys ... what happens when you are not paying anything at all?
There are two ways to stop recidivism, lock up offenders forever or have a programme of proper rehabilitation, with proper access to the resources to enable that rehabilitation. The current position is an ill-conceived adhoc 'compromise' of the two. The concerns highlighted with IPP sentences recently are equally valid for life sentences. The Parole Board and the Prison Service need a full time paid minister with a full grasp of the issues to implement a dramatic review of automatic lifers. Sadly, given the current 'demotion' in status, I have to conclude the will is not there on their part to do so.
Simon Rollason is a Solicitor Advocate and Prison Law Specialist at GC Law Ltd in Hereford. Simon has represented inmates on Death Row in The State of Texas.
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