Short Tariff IPP – What Next?

18/10/2010

The Prison Governor’s Association has this week called out for an urgent review of the 2,500 IPP prisoners still being held beyond their tariff expiry. Eoin McLennan-Murray, president of the Prison Governors Association, described the situation of inmates serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) as “a blatant injustice”. He told delegates at the annual conference of the association that the government should “urgently review those cases with a view to immediate release, unless there is clear evidence that the prisoners still present an unacceptable risk to the public“.

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show that in July there were 6,130 serving indefinite IPP sentences, of whom 2,850 were being held well beyond their ‘tariff expiry’ – the minimum date after which the Parole Board can authorise their release. Of that figure 500 IPP prisoners had served over two years beyond their tariff expiry date. So far only 94 prisoners have been released.

In a joint inspection by HMI Probation and HMI Prisons it was noted that IPP prisoners now constitute around one in 15 of the total prison population. Even with the recent changes in legislation, these numbers far exceeded the capacity of the Probation Service and the prison system (and the Parole Board for that matter) to deliver the necessary quality of service. The report made it clear ‘the current situation is not sustainable’.

It is not the first time that calls have been made to review the position. In July 2008 changes to the law were made which meant that the mandatory nature of the sentence was removed allowing for the judiciary to exercise discretion in imposing the sentence. In addition, save for  some minor exceptions, an IPP sentence could not be imposed unless the custodial term warranted a minimum of two years.

The changes to the law addressed the problems in the short term. I do not believe however that the changes went far enough.  IPP sentences imposed prior to the July 2008 changes remain lawful. Prisoners with IPP sentences imposed pre July 2008 are still in the same position as those with IPP sentences imposed post July 2008. They are required to evidence a reduction in the risk they pose through completion of offending behaviour programmes to demonstrate they are no longer a risk to the public. What of the IPP prisoners that have mental health difficulties or those that do not have the literacy skills required to engage in such problems? What of the IPP prisoner who maintains his/her innocence and is therefore not suitable to attend offending behaviour programmes?

The IPP is without doubt one of the most badly planned pieces of legislation of our time. Ministry of Justice statistics record that from August 2008 to December 2009 around 75 IPP sentences were passed every month. Very little foresight was given to the fact that our prison capacity simply could not meet the huge rise in the IPP population, that the funding and resources for offending behaviour programmes was limited and no consequence was given to the knock on effect to the Parole Board, who are significantly over stretched, resulting in huge delays to oral hearings.

We can only hope the Government has learnt from the mistakes that have been made by implementing this draconian piece of legislation. An eagerly awaited green paper on sentencing and rehabilitation is due to be published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2010, when no doubt the position will be re-visited.

The prison law team at HINE Solicitors has a wealth of experience in advising and assisting IPP prisoners. Please contact us with any enquiries.

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