Skip to main content

Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people still serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection have been detained for longer than the maximum term of imprisonment otherwise statutorily prescribed for their offence, and what plans they have for the release of those people.

The required detailed data are not routinely collected. However, an exercise to estimate the number of current prisoners sentenced to an IPP who have served beyond the maximum term available for their offence indicates that there are around 200 such prisoners. The independent Parole Board directs the release of a prisoner serving an IPP sentence who has completed his tariff only when it is no longer necessary on the grounds of public protection for the prisoner to be detained.

I am grateful to the Minister for that somewhat sobering Answer. Given that statistic, given that the whole IPP scheme was abolished four years ago in 2012 as being inherently unjust, given that there are 600 to 700 prisoners serving years beyond their tariff terms—sometimes eight to 10 times as long—given that more than half of IPP prisoners self-harm, and given the recent excoriation of the system by an ex-Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, in a radio programme as being a “stain” on the system and its condemnation by the three last Lord Chief Justices, does the Minister agree that it is high time that steps were taken to bring this continuing scandal to an end?

Steps are being taken to reduce the population of IPP prisoners. Indeed, in the last year the largest number did in fact qualify for release. The parole service carries out independent examinations for this purpose, and where IPP prisoners fail to respond at these parole hearings the National Offender Management Service has now brought in psychologists and policy experts to undertake a central case review of those IPP prisoners, in the hope that they can complete their tariffs and then progress to open conditions.

My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that concern about this matter is not confined to noble and learned Lords? A number of us feel as strongly as the retired judges and others do on this matter. I hope he can do better next time.

I am obliged to my noble friend. The significant majority of IPP prisoners will actually never reach the point of serving more than the statutory maximum penalty because the very large majority have already been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Minister referred to a number of prisoners who qualified for release. How many of them have been released?

My Lords, as the Minister who saw the abolition of IPPs through this House, can I assure the Minister that it was the wish of Parliament at that time to see an end to IPPs? His replies today show the same immobility which so frustrated me as a Minister. There will be IPP prisoners well into the next decade unless Ministers and the Parole Board take advice from those informed with a welter of information. With his reputation, I ask the Minister to take a close look at some of the facts he has given to the House today, because he will find that they mask the fact that many thousands of prisoners will remain under these schemes long after Parliament intended them to end. The reason why so many distinguished lawyers now call for this to end is that it is not only an injustice to the individual but is now doing real, serious damage to our criminal justice system.

The facts are the facts. There is mobility and we are moving in the right direction. There is an increasing reduction in the number of IPP prisoners who are held. Let us remember that the test is whether these prisoners will represent a high or very high risk of serious harm to others when they leave prison. There is a necessary balancing act between the interests of society as a whole and the very great problem which these dangerous prisoners present. We are conscious of that and have provided further resources to the Parole Board. In light of the Osborn decision in the Supreme Court, we have taken forward the requirement for oral hearings, and we are doing everything in our power to ensure that this prison population is reduced. Let me add one further point. In 2012, when the IPP sentence was abolished, there were put in its place some seriously increased sentences for dangerous offenders, including the extended determinate sentence. If those sentences had been applied to this present cohort, it is not easy to say that they would be released in the foreseeable future.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for the Question and to the Minister for his responses so far. May I ground it in the particular case of a prisoner I met in HMP Onley a few months ago? A young man who had engaged fully with prison training programmes preparing him for release was on the way to a qualification through a well-known cycle and auto repair business, which runs a workshop in that prison, yet there was no assurance as to when or indeed whether he would be released. It is important that such prisoners have the incentive to engage with programmes like that young man had—I commended him for that. Is the Minister able to offer hope to such a prisoner?

I am obliged to the right reverend Prelate. There is hope for such prisoners. Indeed, the very prisoners who engage in that sort of programme and work their way towards a successful hearing before the Parole Board often have only one such hearing before they are able to move to open conditions.

My Lords, as the Home Secretary who introduced the Criminal Justice Act 2003, I am painfully aware of the flaws in the original implementation of IPP, although it has to be said that judges provided the sentences, not Ministers. This issue needs dealing with, but it is not confined to IPP prisoners. David McCauliffe, who has been in prison for 26 years, was sentenced to an eight-year term. He remains in jail because the Parole Board feels that releasing him is inappropriate and would be dangerous. However, the emotional and therapeutic requirements and the necessary courses to put things right are crucial here, not just whether we got it wrong 13 years ago.

We entirely endorse the idea that now we have this cohort of prisoners within the prison population, it is necessary to develop programmes that take them closer to the opportunity of open conditions and ultimate release. But we have to bear in mind that these sentences were imposed on those who have been convicted of serious violent or sexual offences, and the safety of society has to be paramount in our minds.