Prisoners stranded on indefinite sentences past their tariff should be freed immediately, according to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies which is highlighting the ‘therapeutic injustice’ suffered by prisoners still serving IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentences.
Dr Roger Grimshaw, the CCJS’s research director, argues that the provision of services ‘falls far short’ of meeting the needs and ‘the complexities of purported risk reduction strategies’ increases confusion. He continues that as post-tariff period increases and more setbacks to release are encountered, the ‘psychological impacts’ become more acute and families also become increasingly ‘exposed to distress’. ‘Over a considerable time, official reports have identified a raised risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviour among IPP prisoners,’ he writes. ‘The annual rates of self-harm incidents per IPP prisoner were calculated and then compared with the rates for those on life sentences; the data show that IPP prisoners consistently suffer a higher rate.’
In 2012 IPP sentences were scrapped but they weren’t abolished retrospectively for those already serving them. As reported last year, out of some 3,000 people still in prison on IPP, 1,300 of them were there because of recalls. The architect of the scheme, former New Labour Home Secretary Lord Blunkett, pointed out that, ‘if we are not careful’, such a trajectory would lead to more prisoners being in prison on IPP on recall than in prison for the original IPP sentence which he called ‘a farcical situation – and a tragedy’.
Dr Grimshaw highlights research identifying the raised risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviour among IPP prisoners. ‘Finally obtaining permission to be released does not remove anxieties, as individuals on licence can be recalled to prison, not simply for an offence but for a breach of their licence conditions,’ he argues.
‘In order to restore a sense of justice and hope, those past their tariff – the vast majority – should be released without delay, first of all; others should be given a release date, on a case-by-case basis, by judicial or executive decision,’ he continues. The CCJS is calling for a systematic programme of mental health assessment as well as support to enable those released to ‘rejoin their families and adjust satisfactorily to freedom’. In the medium term, the group calls for a ‘holistic and adequately funded programme’ of recovery as well as ‘adequate and prompt state reparations’. In the long term, it recommends a review of all forms of indefinite detention.