Prisoners who have to prove they can be freed

by
16 August 2019

Indefinite detentions under a discredited system must end, say members of the Norwich diocesan criminal-justice forum

SENTENCES of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) were introduced in 2005 after the Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced the concept for those who had committed violent or sexual offences and were deemed to pose a significant risk to the public.

Anyone given an IPP sentence could be detained indefinitely until it was deemed that he or she no longer posed a risk.

Such sentences rapidly fell into disrepute. Those convicted of lesser crimes were included; and prisons were unable to provide the rehabilitation needed. As a consequence, the Coalition Government decided in 2012 that IPPs were not defensible, and they were abolished.

This was not applied retrospectively, however.

We note that previous Home Secretaries, Ken Clarke and Michael Gove, have helpfully suggested solutions, such as the use of “executive clemency”, or release when a prisoner has been held longer than the maximum sentence for his or her crime. None has been accepted by any government. Their attempts demonstrate a growing unease, which we share.

Earlier this year, a parliamentary report (House of Commons Briefing Paper 6 June 2019) established that there were approximately 2400 prisoners serving IPP sentences. The majority had served longer than the tariff set by the courts. Many prisoners were given fairly short tariffs (634 under two years), but have been unable to achieve the rehabilitation courses and accredited offender-behaviour programmes set out in their Prison Sentence Plans.

Through no fault of their own, therefore, and largely owing to the failure of the Prison Service to provide the resources to put on the required courses, prisoners remain unable to satisfy the criteria for release. This is manifestly unfair.

 

THE question arises, then: how do prisoners prove their suitability for release without the results from any course?

We recognise that, in order to be released, a prisoner must demonstrate that he or she is no longer a risk to society; and these assessments are carried out by the Offender Managers in the prisons.

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The main delay in releasing IPP prisoners, however, appears to be a logjam at the Parole Board, and this requires very urgent attention.

The Justice Secretary, by section 128 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, has the power to change the test for release on licence of certain prisoners, including IPP prisoners, by order. The clause allows the Secretary of State to alter the test that the Parole Board must apply when releasing prisoners.

Both Houses of Parliament would have to agree to the change, but fresh legislation would not be required.

The Supreme Court can affect the behaviour of the Parole Board: the decision in Osborn, Booth and Reilly v The Parole Board [2013] UKSC 61 resulted in oral rather than paper hearings. And there is some evidence that progress is being made to release IPP prisoners in that the Prison and Probation services and the Parole Board are working closely together to improve the situation.

But action must be taken urgently. It is unfair to keep prisoners in custody beyond their tariff when others who have subsequently committed identical crimes are already walking free.

Consequently, we recommend: 

  1. that the Ministry of Justice consider legislative intervention to convert post-tariff IPP sentences to determinate sentences. This is a simple solution that provides a firm release date;

  2. that risk assessments by Offender Managers in prisons be given greater priority, credence, and authority;

  3. that the Prison Service be given the resources to give IPP prisoners the opportunity to attend rehabilitation courses, and be placed on appropriate accredited programmes to address their offending behaviour in order to gain release. If the Prison Service cannot provide these resources, the prisoners should not be penalised;

  4. that the Parole Board membership be increased and devote the extra resources to addressing the problems of these IPP prisoners’ cases;

  5. and that, if the prisoners have completed all that is required of them and the risk assessment is satisfactory, but the Parole Board has insufficient resources to consider their cases, then some form of executive release should be considered by the Government.

that the Ministry of Justice consider legislative intervention to convert post-tariff IPP sentences to determinate sentences. This is a simple solution that provides a firm release date;

that risk assessments by Offender Managers in prisons be given greater priority, credence, and authority;

that the Prison Service be given the resources to give IPP prisoners the opportunity to attend rehabilitation courses, and be placed on appropriate accredited programmes to address their offending behaviour in order to gain release. If the Prison Service cannot provide these resources, the prisoners should not be penalised;

that the Parole Board membership be increased and devote the extra resources to addressing the problems of these IPP prisoners’ cases;

and that, if the prisoners have completed all that is required of them and the risk assessment is satisfactory, but the Parole Board has insufficient resources to consider their cases, then some form of executive release should be considered by the Government.

We feel that this issue should have been addressed ten years ago but has yet to be resolved.

 

Written on behalf of the Ecumenical Criminal Justice Forum by the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick, Canon Chris Copsey, and Paddy Seligman JP DL.

Further reading:Prison: The facts: Bromley Briefings Summer 2019, and a 2016 policy paper, both published by the Prison Reform Trust.

prisonreformtrust.org.uk

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