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Prisoners: Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

Volume 765: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many of those still serving Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences have now been imprisoned for more than five times their tariff sentences, and whether their imprisonment will continue indefinitely unless and until the Parole Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that they should be confined.

Of those prisoners serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection at the end of September 2015, 392 had served more than five times their tariff. IPP prisoners will continue to be detained until the independent Parole Board is satisfied that the risks they pose to the public are safely manageable in the community.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. She confirms that there are in our overcrowded and expensive prison system already several hundred prisoners serving well beyond the appropriate term representing punishment for their offending. Some 392 have done more than five times their tariff term, and many hundreds more have also served well beyond their term. This is of course a form of preventive detention—internment—entirely alien to our traditional criminal justice approach.

In 2012, that whole system was finally abolished and power was given to the Lord Chancellor to amend the test to ensure that those people previously sentenced could finally secure their release. The previous Lord Chancellor failed in that regard. When will this Lord Chancellor finally decide to bring this terrible scourge to an end?

I thank the noble and learned Lord for his question. Of course, I am well aware that noble Lords across the House have raised this issue on numerous occasions. We are taking measures to attempt to address the situation. One positive thing I hope that noble Lords will accept is that the Parole Board is tackling the backlog in oral hearings, which has been reduced by 18% since January. The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right that the Secretary of State has the power to amend the release test. He is extremely mindful of the concerns expressed and of his powers, but there are no plans to use those powers at present.

My Lords, the Minister will recall the passion that our colleague the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, brought to this issue. Since he retired in March there has been a change of Government and of Minister. Could we please have a change of policy, too?

Along with the noble Lord, I pay tribute to the much missed noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. I hope that the noble Lord sees that we take this extremely seriously. As I mentioned, we have started to tackle the unacceptable backlog—but more needs to be done. Through the indeterminate sentences prisoner co-ordination group, we have also looked at improving processes. Waiting times for transferring IPP offenders to open prisons has fallen from around nine months to six to eight weeks. We are prioritising places on offender behaviour programmes and interventions. We are encouraging offender managers to draw up sentence plans that consider a variety of interventions. NOMS has also undertaken a series of reviews which we are looking to implement, particularly for prisoners who have had four or five post-tariff reviews and still failed to progress. I understand the concerns raised by noble Lords but we are taking action.

My Lords, on 3 December 2014, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, what courses to promote rehabilitation were available for IPP prisoners other than those sex offenders for whom he had confirmed that,

“the Government have increased the number of commissioned completions of courses”.—[Official Report, 3/12/14; col. 1317.]

With his customary deftness and elegance, the noble Lord avoided answering the specific question. I ask the Minister the same question: what is the position in relation to the provision of these essential courses for other IPP offenders?

The noble Lord will be aware that it is not mandatory for IPP prisoners to complete specific courses and programmes before they can be considered for parole. In fact, the sentencing planning guidance reinforces the Parole Board’s general obligation to consider the offender’s risk level, so that it can also look at broader evidence such as training and education, specialist support and demonstrating a sustained period of stable behaviour.

My Lords, one of the successes of the coalition Government was the abolition of the IPP, which applies to current and future offenders but not to those already in the system. Will the Minister confirm that there are serious delays in the assessment process, including delays at parole hearings, resulting in inmates remaining in our prisons often years after their release dates? What steps are being taken to end this injustice? Surely, if the Secretary of State is serious about reducing the prison population, he should deal with the anomaly that the abolition of IPP sentences has created for those in custody now.

As I said, we have taken steps to improve the efficiency of the Parole Board, and we allocated an additional £1.2 million of funding to help it deal with the backlog, which is improving: since January, there has been an 18% reduction. But we accept that there is more to be done, and we will focus our energy to make sure that the backlog continues to decrease.

My Lords, given the widespread concern on this issue, and given that the protection of the public is something we must also take closely into account, will my noble friend and her friends in the department arrange for a confidential briefing for Members of this House on why some of these people are serving such very long sentences?

I am certainly happy to speak to my noble friend Lord Faulks about that when he returns. I am sure he would be happy to do that.

Does the Minister agree that the delay in considering cases is reprehensible, but the safety of the public must always be paramount?

I thank the noble and learned Lord for that comment. He is absolutely right—the Parole Board can ensure that these prisoners are released only when it determines that the risk has been reduced and they can be safely managed in the community. These are extremely complex cases, and we have to be mindful of ensuring that prisoners feel they are progressing, but, equally, that the public are kept safe.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how recent the risk assessments are to which she referred? In my experience, some are very old and the prisoners have changed in the time since that assessment was made.

The detailed analysis of the prisoners who fail to progress to open conditions post four or five tariff reviews happened very recently. That analysis has just finished, and the central team that undertook it is now passing on recommended actions and plans to the staff working with those prisoners. Progress will be kept under review. The next stage of the central team’s work is to review the larger group of IPPs who have had three negative post-tariff parole reviews. So this is ongoing work.