The UK Ministry of Justice announced plans to reform Imprisonment for Public Protection (“IPP”) sentences. IPP sentences, originally intended to prevent offenders considered “dangerous” from being released despite their offense not warranting a life sentence, have not been used since 2012. However, many still have ongoing IPP sentences today, leaving them in prison indefinitely or with the possibility of recall at any time hanging over their head. The government expects the new changes, proposed on Tuesday, “to come into force 2 months after the Bill [the Victims and Prisoners Bill] receives Royal Assent.”
The new changes, according to the Ministry of Justice press release, will mean that IPP offenders serving community sentences will be referred for license review by the Parole Board three years after their initial release. If their sentence is not terminated by that review, it will end two years later, if the offender is not recalled to prison. The Parole Board will be expected to operate under the assumption that the license should be terminated unless it is required to protect the public. As it stands, IPP offenders have to wait a minimum of ten years for Parole Board review, and their sentences are indefinite.
This immediately applies to the more than 1,800 offenders living safely in the community and those not taken into prison or a secure hospital during their IPP sentence. These people were left unaddressed by the 2012 scrapping of the IPP policy because it did not apply retrospectively. This left the IPP system, as described by Lord Brown, “[T]he greatest single stain on the justice system… a deeper, growing stain because of the situation with the recalls.”
As noted by the Guardian, offenders have been recalled to prison at an increasing rate, and as a 2022 Report highlighted, some are recalled to prison, not for committing criminal offenses, but for missing or being late for appointments or lack of community resources. There has been much controversy around IPP sentences since their introduction, with the Justice Select Committee calling for the resentencing of all IPP prisoners last year—which the government subsequently rejected.
According to the United Group for Reform of IPP (UNGRIPP), a campaign group for IPP reform, 2,916 were imprisoned under IPP recall as of March, with 1,327 unreleased, over tariff and 1,561 on recall. The changes announced Tuesday have been widely accepted as a first step in reform. However, critics say there is still far to go, especially following the Independent’s report that seven inmates committed suicide since the government first refused to resentence IPP prisoners in February. That decision is not addressed in Tuesday’s proposed changes.