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Indeterminate Prison Sentences

Volume 521: debated on Tuesday 11 January 2011

12. What assessment he has made of the effects on public protection of releasing those with indeterminate prison sentences who have completed their minimum tariff. (32688)

Prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who have completed their minimum tariff are released from custody only if the independent Parole Board is satisfied that the risk of harm that they pose to the public is such that it may reasonably be managed in the community.

The Secretary of State will be aware that inmates serving indeterminate public protection sentences will have committed some of the most severe offences. Often, the reason they are not released after their minimum tariff is that they still pose a great risk or have not been able to complete the rehabilitative courses that are available. Will he either spend more money on rehabilitation inside prisons or change the method by which risk is assessed?

We addressed this problem in the Green Paper, on which we are consulting. It is quite obvious that the IPP system has never worked as either the previous Government or Parliament intended. Indeed, the previous Government made one attempt to revise it to stop the unexpectedly large numbers of people who were going into the system. IPP prisoners are almost all high-risk, and they should be released only once they have been assessed by the Parole Board, but of course it is extremely difficult to form judgments about the risks that they pose when they are in prison and sometimes unable to access rehabilitation courses. We published our proposals in the Green Paper and are now consulting on them, but we have no intention whatever of putting the public at more risk by releasing people without some assessment by the Parole Board. However, it has to be a sensible assessment that can sensibly be made.

I welcome the last part of the Secretary of State’s answer in particular. He will be aware that indeterminate sentences are given to serious criminals such as the ring leaders in the grooming of vulnerable girls for sex convicted last week at Nottingham Crown court. He will appreciate concern that, in his desire to reduce the prison population, he may release dangerous convicted prisoners prematurely. He talked about those currently serving IPPs who have served their minimum tariff. How soon does he think his proposals will have an impact on those prisoners, and how will he address the British public’s legitimate concerns?

At the moment, more than 3,000 people on an IPP sentence have completed their minimum tariff, which is the punishment for the crime for which they are sent to prison, and a very small proportion of those are being released. The numbers are piling up all the time, and recommendations are frequently made to the Department that the matter has to be re-addressed, because we have more than 3,000 people whose release from prison is totally uncertain. We are now consulting and there will be legislation in the spring, which will have to be enacted and improved by the House before a new system comes into effect. That system will retain the need for the Parole Board to make a sensible assessment of whether the risk posed by those in question can properly be managed in the community.