A new Radio 4 documentary has provided an insight into the devastating effects of controversial Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences.
Roddy Russell explores the impact of IPP sentences on those serving them and their loved ones, as well as the current political deadlock over their continuing usage.
Roddy’s brother was sentenced for making a threat to kill with an initial tariff of 2.5 years. He has now been in custody for fourteen years, and there is still no end in sight.
Other contributors described the difficulty of supporting family members serving IPP sentences, including Cherrie Nichol, whose brother is now sixteen years over his initial tariff. She said the whole family is traumatised, and her brother ‘is just so broken’.
Many of those interviewed said that their loved ones serving IPP sentences were being given conditions for progression that they weren’t able to meet, on account of the devastating psychological impact that serving an IPP sentence was having on them.
They said those serving IPPs were being told to complete progressive courses in order to meet conditions for release, but that these weren’t even available in their prison.
In the documentary it was revealed that former Labour Home Secretary Lord Blunkett had called Roddy Russell and apologised for his role in the creation of IPP sentences. Speaking on the documentary Lord Blunkett said the ‘tragic situation’ facing IPP prisoners is that ‘the longer they are in prison without hope, the more their mental health and general deterioration makes it even more difficult for the parole board to release them’. He has previously called the sentences ‘a disaster’.
Last week a man serving an IPP sentence at HMP Manchester scaled the outside of the prison and daubed ‘Free IPPZ’ on the roof, believed to be a reference to IPP sentences. He remained there for twelve hours.
The government released their reaction to a Justice Select Committee report into IPP sentences in February, but refused to enact the primary recommendation, re-sentencing all IPP prisoners. The Ministry of Justice said: ‘The Government’s long-held view is that this (resentencing) would give rise to an unacceptable risk to public protection and that the IPP Action Plan, suitably updated, remains the best option by which these offenders can progress towards safe release’.
The introduction of IPP sentences was intended to apply to around 900 offenders who posed a danger to the public but whose crimes didn’t warrant a life sentence. In all, almost 9,000 people were sentenced under IPP orders.
IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, but the change was not applied retrospectively. Those still serving indeterminate sentences had to continue to re-apply for parole. As of September 2022 there were 1,437 unreleased IPP prisoners in England and Wales, as well as 1,434 people who had served IPP sentences and been recalled to custody. As of that date, all but 43 of those IPP prisoners had passed their original tariff date.