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Sentencing

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2008

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of indeterminate sentences for public protection on prison overcrowding; and if he will make a statement. (240232)

Indeterminate imprisonment for public protection—IPP—sentences are an important part of sentencing options for the protection of the public. The Government will ensure that there are prison places for those whom the court sends to custody.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As he knows, I have been in correspondence with him and other Ministers in the Department since October of last year about my constituent, Mr. W, who is in prison serving such a sentence. The time has come when he could have been considered for parole, had he been able to gain access to the courses which were a condition for that. He could have been considered in March, but he cannot access those courses. I understand that there might be up to 800 prisoners in similar circumstances.

The Minister will also know that, through the changes made in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, sentences with such attachments to them can no longer be given. Will he look at my constituent’s case and consider whether he and others like him might be brought under the terms of the 2008 Act, and thus be made eligible for parole rather than left in the current Catch-22 situation?

It is important that individuals serving IPP sentences access the courses, and I recognise that there were initially some difficulties because of the numbers coming through. We have tried to put extra resources in to prioritise IPP prisoners who are post tariff, and I am confident that in short order such prisoners will be able to undertake the courses that they need to attend to progress through the system.

The hon. Gentleman asks me to ensure that we look at Mr. W’s sentence; as he knows, that is ultimately for the Parole Board. I will certainly re-examine his correspondence and write to him again, but it will ultimately be for the Parole Board to decide whether Mr. W can be released because his offending behaviour is no longer a risk to the public.

Do we keep any data on the number of prisoners who are former psychiatric patients or who have learning difficulties? A recent report by Mind suggested that many such individuals, especially those with learning difficulties, were slipping through the health and social service net and ending up in prison and adding to the overcrowding.

My hon. Friend will know that there will be a number of people on IPP sentences who have such difficulties. He will also know that I, along with my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary, have given my noble Friend Lord Bradley the opportunity to examine these issues, and I expect him to report to me early in the new year on matters such as how we might address diversion of individuals with mental health problems and how we can provide better support for such individuals in prison.