A CHRISTIAN legal group has called for urgent action to ensure the release of 2400 prisoners in the UK who were still in prison despite having served their term, in some cases by more than a decade.
The prisoners all received sentences known as Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). IPP sentences were introduced in 2005 for convicted offenders deemed to pose a significant risk to the public. They were abolished just seven years later when the Government realised that they were being too widely used, with nearly seven per cent of the prison population made up of IPP prisoners at one point.
The abolition wasn’t retrospective, however, and some prisoners who were given minimum terms of less than two years are still in prison more than a decade later. The Prison Reform Trust said that releases of prisoners on IPP sentences had slowed down in the past year, and of those who are released, a growing number are now going back to prison.
The Ecumenical Criminal Justice forum, led by a magistrate, Paddy Seligman, and the Bishop of Lynn, the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick, has called on the Government to change all IPP sentences to fixed, determinate sentences, and to release those who have served longer than the tariff set by the courts.
In an article in the Church Times today, members of the forum argue: “Earlier this year, a parliamentary report 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.
“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.”
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, has reviewed IPP sentences and said that it was “widely accepted that implementation of the sentence was flawed”, and that “decisive action” was needed for reasons of cost, “fairness and justice”, and to relieve pressures on the system.
Danny Wetherspoon, from Newcastle, was sentenced to serve 15 months in 2007 for two attempted robberies. Now aged 31 and having attempted to take his own life twice in prison, he is still behind bars after his parole had been refused, his father told the Newcastle Chronicle.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Prisoners serving public protection sentences were deemed by a judge to pose a high risk of harm to the public.
“All such prisoners who have served their tariff can apply to the independent Parole Board and demonstrate they are no longer a threat to society, and more than 500 of them did so last year, demonstrating that the system works.
“But our utmost priority is public safety, and those who breach their licence conditions or go on to commit another crime face being recalled to prison.”
The Prime Minister has, this week, released a number of policy announcements on criminal justice, including a promise to keep “dangerous criminals” in prison longer, ending the automatic release of prisoners on parole halfway through their sentence; and increasing blanket stop-and-search powers by police.
Read comment from members of the forum