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Prisoners: Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 20 December 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether in the case of imprisonment for public protection prisoners they will encourage the Parole Board to apply the legal principle that the longer the prisoner serves beyond the tariff period, the clearer should be the Parole Board’s perception of public risk to justify the continued deprivation of liberty involved.

My Lords, the Parole Board may direct release only if satisfied that detention is no longer necessary for the protection of the public. The board will base its decision on a comprehensive assessment of the risk posed by the individual prisoner. This will be determined by reference to all the offender’s circumstances.

My Lords, call it what one will, the plain fact is that the longer a prisoner serves beyond his tariff, the more he is detained beyond due punishment. Worboys had a tariff term of eight years and within two years of that was recommended for release—a case that has done terrible damage to the IPP cause. However, I am concerned with those at the other end of the IPP spectrum. Six years after the regime was abolished, of the 2,500 remaining IPP prisoners, 261 with a tariff of less than two years have served more than eight years beyond their tariff. Indeed, 129 have served over 10 years beyond their less than two-year tariff for punishment. Does the Minister not agree that that is gross injustice, and that the burden of proving a prisoner to be unsafe for release should in future lie with the detaining authority?

My Lords, it is important to remember that the original sentence was imposed on individuals who had committed serious violent or sexual offences so that, at the end of the day, not only should they be punished for those serious offences, but the public and future potential victims should be protected. The Parole Board must, as I said, have in mind all material considerations when it scrutinises the level of risk that is or is not acceptable when one of these prisoners applies for parole. Of course, the time spent in prison post-tariff will be a relevant consideration; albeit that that is not a principle of law, it clearly is one of the considerations the Parole Board will have in mind.

I rise to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and once again to accept my responsibility for the failure of Parliament to be clear enough about the intention when laying down this law back in 2003. It is absolutely clear now that people are serving way beyond their tariff in an unacceptable fashion under the IPP—but also under previous legislation. I have been trying to help an individual, David McCauliffe, who had a tariff of seven years and has now served 31 years. Is it not time for the Ministry of Justice, with the Parole Board, to put in place rehabilitation facilities that allow people who have served that kind of sentence to transition from existing prison facilities back into normal life?

My Lords, the Government are of course concerned that the Parole Board should have the opportunity to consider even these extreme cases, and it does so regularly. Regrettably, there are prisoners who have not responded to any of the regimes available to them while in prison, and in those circumstances provision is made for what are termed progression regimes, in which prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence have, for example, even been excluded from a move to an open prison because of their behaviour. In addition, psychological assistance is given to those prisoners, in the hope that they can progress towards release. However, I remind noble Lords that we must have regard to the fact that some of them have committed very serious violent and sexual offences, and as long as they remain a real risk to the public, their release has to be the subject of clear and careful consideration.

My Lords, I hesitate to take issue with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown—even more so when it means also taking issue with my noble friend Lord Blunkett—but the key thing here is that this is not an extended punishment; it is a regime to protect the public. I never understood the principle referred to in the Question today, which is that for subsequent parole reviews we must show that the prisoner is clearly more dangerous than he —it is normally a man—was the last time parole was considered. If someone is a clear and present danger to the public, particularly because of terrible violent or sexual crimes, it is justifiable, after due consideration by the Parole Board, to extend that until such time as he or she is no longer a clear and present danger to the public.

My Lords, I emphasise that the number of prisoners held under IPP sentences continues to decrease at an accelerating rate. However, I regret to observe that that leaves behind a serious core of sometimes incorrigible individuals, which presents real difficulties for the Parole Board when it addresses the question of release. Indeed, it is noticeable that as we have increased the rate of release of IPP prisoners, the rate of those being recalled under licence for serious breaches of it has also increased.

My Lords, we abolished these sentences under LAPSO. The continuing rate of release is extremely low. This injustice cries out to be cured, and that can be done by changing the test under Section 128 of LASPO, as was always intended. Does the noble and learned Lord appreciate that the number of incidents of self-harm among IPP prisoners is more than double that for the rest of the prison population? Is that not evidence of the despair these sentences cause?

My Lords, it is regrettable that the number of incidents of self-harm is both as high as it is and higher for IPP prisoners. However, many of these prisoners suffer from serious psychological issues, which is one reason for that unfortunate statistic. There is no intention at present to change the onus under Section 128 of the Act, but as the Supreme Court observed in a recent decision:

“Although the default position is that detention will continue ‘unless … the Board is satisfied that it is no longer necessary’ … the Parole Board is an investigative body which will make up its own mind on all the material before it”.