Mental health, human rights & criminal justice bodies unite for reforms to address the “stain” of the IPP sentence

An influential cross-sector coalition of mental health bodies, human rights charities and criminal justice organisations have joined forces to call for reforms to address the ongoing injustice of the IPP sentence – described by the former Supreme Court Justice Lord Brown as “the greatest single stain on our criminal justice system”.

Members of the coalition include the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the British Psychological Society, Amnesty International, Justice, Liberty, UNGRIPP, the Probation Institute, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Inquest, the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the Prison Reform Trust.

The coalition is calling on peers to support 17 amendments relating to IPPs tabled for the committee stage debate on the victims and prisoners bill. The debate on the amendments is expected to begin on Monday 26 February.

A joint briefing supported by members of the coalition has been sent to peers ahead of the debate on the amendments.

The amendments have been tabled by a distinguished cross-party group of peers including the former Home Secretary Lord Blunkett, the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas, the former Shadow Solicitor General Lord Garnier, Lord Moylan, Lord Carter, Lord Hodgson, Baroness Fox, Baroness Chakrabarti, Baroness Burt, Baroness Blower, Earl Attlee, Lord Hope, and the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

The amendments include provision to introduce resentencing in line with the principal recommendation of the Justice Committee’s inquiry on the IPP.

They also include measures to improve the sentence progression of IPP prisoners, reverse the Parole Board release test for certain IPP prisoners, and improve the treatment of people sentenced to Detention for Public Protection (the equivalent of the IPP sentence for juvenile offenders).

Clause 48 of the bill, introduced during the bill’s report stage in the House of Commons, makes welcome changes to the process for the review and termination of an IPP licence, including bringing forward the point at which someone serving an IPP in the community becomes eligible for a licence review from 10 to 3 years, and introducing provision for the automatic termination of an IPP licence.

Amendments tabled by peers would make further improvements to these arrangements as well as introducing a new power of executive release of recalled IPP prisoners.

Dr Josanne Holloway, Chair of the Forensic Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“The Victims and Prisoners Bill is a chance to make real progress in ending one of the biggest injustices of our criminal justice system. Serving an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence can have a devastating impact on someone’s mental health. They have all served longer than the usual tariff for the offence, often for continuing mental health difficulties and live with the daily uncertainty of not knowing if their sentence will ever end. A hardship which is worsened by the fact that the very sentence they are serving is unjust.

“The effects of these sentences can often lead to people being recalled often because of lack of needed support on release. Therefore, it is important for those who are returning to their homes to have the right additional support available in the community.

“We hope the government accepts these amendments and makes urgent and effective action to resolve this worry situation.”

Professor Nic Bowes, Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Forensic Psychology, said:

“The British Psychological Society welcomes the proposed reforms to the IPP licence. Research studies have shown that IPP sentences are psychologically harmful, leaving people in a chronic state of anxiety and hopelessness, with a detrimental impact on mental health.

“Increasing the prospect that an IPP sentence will end is a positive step towards restoring hope, which is a crucial factor in desistance from crime. We remain concerned about the psychological harm of IPP sentences to those who have never been released from prison, and we support the range of amendments that seek to address their circumstances.”

“We also support the Justice Committee’s call to form an expert working group to examine a resentencing exercise. Independent expert scrutiny would ensure a carefully planned and evidence-based method of righting the historic wrongs of IPP. Forensic psychologists would make an important contribution to this working group.”

Tyrone Steele, Deputy Legal Director at JUSTICE, said:

“Too many people are losing hope while living out IPP sentences years or decades longer than their crime warranted – sentences so indefensible that the Government abolished them. Righting this wrong would give people their futures back and help ease pressure on our overloaded prison system.

“We urge Peers to support these amendments to help end this shameful chapter in our legal history.”

Tom Southerden, Amnesty UK’s Legal Programme Director, said:

“IPP sentences are a stain on the justice system and were found by the European Court to violate fundamental human rights as long ago as 2012.

“For the thousands of people still stuck in this system it has become a living nightmare. It’s clearly past time for a root and branch reform of how the justice system deals with these people, and while the government’s proposals in the Victims and Prisoners’ Bill are a welcome step they don’t go nearly far enough.

“We urge all Peers to support the range of amendments that have been tabled that will provide real relief for people condemned to suffer this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.”

A spokesperson for UNGRIPP said:

“Everyday we hear about the extreme damage the IPP sentence does to people serving the sentence and their families. This treatment has been allowed to continue for more than 18 years. The torture of the IPP needs to stop! While many of these amendments do not go far enough, they are a step closer to ending the injustice of the IPP sentence.”

Helen Schofield, Chief Executive, Probation Institute, said:

“A review of IPP provision is long overdue. The Probation Institute strongly urge members of the House of Lords to support the proposed amendments in the interests of justice and humanity.”

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

“All parties have promised not to use IPPs as a political football. To wipe this stain off our criminal justice system for good, all sides in parliament are going to have to work together.”

Deborah Coles, Executive Director of Inquest, said:

“INQUEST has assisted the bereaved families of at least 28 people who died imprisoned on indeterminate sentences. The harm they cause to prisoners and their families is irrefutable. Despite widespread evidence of the injustice of the sentence and the fact that it was abolished in 2012, thousands of people sentenced to an IPP before 2012 continue to languish in prison whilst others released in the community live with the endless threat of recall.

“INQUEST’s casework has highlighted the undeniable link between the IPP sentence, hopelessness, self-harm and suicide. We stand in support of a re-sentencing exercise for all prisoners on an IPP sentence and want to see the sentence abolished retroactively to prevent further harm and deaths.”

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

“Each week, the Howard League receives letters from IPP prisoners describing the despair that comes with a sentence apparently without end. In our visits to prisons, we find men who feel forgotten, alone, and indignant at the injustice of it all. Some say they are resigned to die in jail.

“That this sentence is allowed to continue to devastate lives is a travesty. Thousands of families have been torn apart by the IPP scandal, and we hope the House of Lords will support these amendments that will finally and effectively allow IPP prisoners the justice they have so long been fighting for.”

Pia Sinha, Chief Executive of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“By taking bold steps to reform the process for the review and termination of an IPP licence, the current justice secretary has gone further than many of his predecessors in seeking to address the ongoing stain of the IPP sentence.

“But the injustice faced by thousands of IPP prisoners and their families requires more radical action still. An influential cross-party group of peers has tabled a series of amendments to the victims and prisoners bill to take forward reforms in a number of important areas. With the backing of organisations from across the mental health, human rights and criminal justice sectors, we hope peers will be persuaded to support these amendments and help bring a distressing chapter in British legal history to a close.”

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