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Wednesday, 8 April 2015

IPP,The many types of indeterminate sentence

A lifer by any other name
I begin this month’s article with an apology. Readers of Inside Time would have noticed that in recent months I have written much about the plight of IPP inmates and how the system shockingly fails them. In December last year I wrote an article introducing Zoe Conway, a BBC Journalist, who invited IPP inmates to write to her at Wells Burcombe explaining the difficulties faced having been the subject of an IPP sentence.

The response to that article was great and I would like to thank all those who wrote in sharing their stories. Amongst the many letters received, I was reminded that it was not just IPP lifers in the system who are suffering.

There are very obviously other lifer inmates suffering and it is to them that I apologise for not having pre- viously given them the recognition they deserve. There are inmates in the system against whom an automatic life sentence was imposed between 1997 and April 2005 for a second serious offence, prisoners commonly referred to as ‘two strike lifers.’ There are also the discretionary and mandatory lifers who suffer the same injus- tices and who have been rotting in jail without any support or hope.

The content of the letters I received, albeit from IPP inmates predominantly, hits home really hard just how intense the suffering and heartache is for these forgotten inmates. Most of the letters contained harrowing accounts of neglect, failure, inhumanity and total embarrassment, all bringing total shame on the system. One letter advised that historically it was uncommon to meet another inmate who has been in prison for over 20 years.

Now it is not so rare. One dis- cretionary life prisoner is now over tariff by 12 years! This particular gentlemen made a very valid point; he argued that the longer he, and others like him, had to spend in prison, the less likely it was that he was going to be able to persuade the powers-that-be that he was suitable for release. I read recently a very well written contribution to Inside Time by a prisoner who said that he felt that in the eyes of Offender Managers, Psychologists and the
Parole Board the issue of being ‘safe’ to be released was being misinterpreted as meaning being ‘perfect’ to be released. He is right, but sadly the way the issue of safety is assessed and applied is not always so.
Its only when you embark upon on an exercise such as the one Zoe Conway and I embarked upon in December last year that you really get a much more reliable picture of how the system fails lifers. Another written contribution to Inside Time I read by a prisoner referring to IPP sentences stated that since its inception in 2005, the effects of IPP sentences had basically waged ‘psycho- logical warfare’ on prisoners and their families. I have no doubt that this is the same with all lifers.

It is, in my view, time to think about real change to the whole lifer system. It is time to actively engage directly with inmates serving life sentences of whatever description. Time to listen to those who are most affected and not just those who make the decisions on those most affected.

Of the many letters received, a very common complaint concerned the obvious subject of courses. The lack of courses was a prominent concern, but more obviously frustrating was the fact that many prisoners had completed sentence plan targets and courses only to be told by the parole board that it was deemed necessary for more courses to be attended and completed. Prison Service Order PSI41 2012 states all sentence plans must be realistic and achievable. It just doesn’t happen. The goal posts are not just moved to one side, they are removed altogether.

This article is not intended to rehash the well documented faults with the lifer system. The list is endless and the concerns well known. The article is intended, however, to address the balance in emphasis on IPP inmates at the expense of all other lifers who undoubt- edly suffer too. I have passed Zoe Conway all the letters received and she will continue to raise the plight of lifers in the media and share the concerns raised. Thanks again.

If you are a lifer with a pending review, Wells Burcombe would like to help.

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