The UK government Thursday rejected a call by the Justice Committee to resentence prisoners facing indeterminate jail terms under the abolished Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) scheme. This poses a major challenge to nearly 3,000 prisoners who were sentenced when the legislation was still in place but remain in prison despite the Committee’s proposal to have them resentenced.
In a report published by the government as a response to the proposal, the government argues that the retrospective application of the legislation could lead to the release of many offenders who have already been regarded as unsafe by the parole board. This would result in a high risk to public safety. The government’s stand remains that its action plan remains the best way for these offenders to obtain safe release.
Commenting on the proposal’s rejection the chair of the Justice Committee Sir Bob Neil said that:
We are not only disappointed with this government response but genuinely surprised. There is now a growing consensus that a resentencing exercise is the only way to comprehensively address the injustice of IPP sentences and that this can be done without prejudicing public protection. Our report said this nettle needed to be grasped by all three branches of the State–Government, Parliament and the Judiciary. But the government has not listened. The nettle has not been grasped and, as a result, these people will remain held in an unsustainable limbo.
The proposal was made by the House of Commons Justice Committee in September 2022 on the grounds that the government’s action plan to reduce the number of IPP prisoners lacks a strategic plan and performance measures. The Committee also cited the deteriorating mental health of the prisoners due to hopelessness and despair as one of the reasons why resentencing should be considered.
The IPP sentences were introduced in 2002 under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to protect the public by detaining offenders who posed a significant risk to the public. It was however abolished in 2012 hence the concerns of its subsequent application years later by the Justice Committee.