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Prisoners: Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection

Volume 824: debated on Thursday 27 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have for resentencing prisoners serving indeterminate sentences for public protection.

My Lords, the Government’s long-held view is that retrospectively altering imprisonment for public protection sentences would lead to an unacceptable risk to public safety. However, the Justice Select Committee of the other place has now published its report on the IPP sentence, which recommends bringing forward legislation to resentence all those offenders who continue to serve an IPP sentence. The Government will consider carefully all the recommendations in the report, including that one, and respond by 28 November.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer. In addition to having resentencing at the core of its recommendations, the Justice Select Committee also draws attention to the fact that, according to MoJ figures, it is expected that as many as 2,600 IPP prisoners currently on licence in the community will be recalled over the next four years—on present experience, the majority without having committed a further offence. Does my noble and learned friend accept that these numbers will put an unacceptable strain on the prison estate, that everything should be done to avoid that situation eventuating, and that it is incumbent on His Majesty’s Government to strengthen the probation service to ensure that it does not come about?

My Lords, first, I make clear that the Government very much welcome the Select Committee report, which is a powerful document and makes for sober reading. On my noble friend’s question, the Government’s view is that public protection must come first. Secondly, it is not necessarily the case that this number of recalls will actually occur. Thirdly, and importantly, the Select Committee discusses the need for further resources to the probation service, particularly to supervise prisoners released on licence. The Government will look very closely into further resources for the probation service in that regard.

My Lords, another day, another Justice Secretary—bedevilling any coherence and continuity in policy. Does the noble and learned Lord agree that putting in place the expert panel suggested by the Justice Select Committee would be a first step, even if the Government do not accept resentencing? It would allow them to look at the action plan and the important issue the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, just raised of those on licence who find themselves back in prison for the most trivial offence.

My Lords, as I just said, the Government will consider all the recommendations in the report. I should like to make clear that recall does not necessarily happen for trivial reasons. There are quite severe tests to be met for a recall. As far as the resentencing exercise and the panel itself are concerned, the Government will consider all the suggestions in the report, including those suggestions, and report back to the Justice Select Committee by the end of November.

My Lords, MPs and noble Lords from all parts of both Houses have welcomed the excellent Neill report, and we are looking forward to the government response on 28 November with bated breath. I appreciate that the Minister might be unwilling to be drawn on the contents of the Government’s response today, but will he at least agree with me that it is high time that this terrible wrong done to these indeterminate sentence prisoners is righted?

As I said, the Government’s view is that, despite the intractability of the problem, public protection must come first. That is the position we have taken over the years. Without at all prejudging the Government’s position, I shall say a word about the suggested resentencing exercise. The only reason these offenders are detained is the Parole Board’s decision that they are unsafe to be released. That is the situation with which we are faced. If we talk about resentencing in that context, many of the prisoners have already exceeded their original tariff. I simply ask your Lordships to reflect that to resentence for the actual offence may not be a particularly fruitful exercise, because the tariff has already expired. Is it that what we are really considering is a reassessment of the risk to public safety? That is an assessment that the Parole Board is already carrying out. So where does all that take one? I simply leave that question rhetorically for your Lordships.

My Lords, it is certainly true that this is a difficult issue and it is difficult for the Government to manage the risk of IPP prisoners. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the Minister talked about extra resources for the probation service. I should like to press him a little on that. Does he accept that with the high recall rates of IPP prisoners out on licence, there should be special training for probation officers dealing with these former prisoners out on licence to prevent them either reoffending or breaking their licence conditions?

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a very similar and powerful point in the recent debate on the probation services and the support they can give these prisoners in the community. The Government will look very closely at that, as they will all the issues raised in the report.

My Lords, as it happens, I was confirming in His Majesty’s Prison Holme House on Monday. One of the people I confirmed was an IPP prisoner. We talked about the desperate impact on family and children of the uncertainty that he has faced. He had been recalled, not for having committed an offence but for breaking conditions. It is very complicated. In looking at this, will His Majesty’s Government look at the impact on children and family and the support from not just the probation service but other organisations, such as, in the north-east, Nepacs and Junction 42?

My Lords, the Government will of course consider those considerations along with all the others raised in the report.

My Lords, 10 years ago, the discredited ISPP scheme was abolished—alas, prospectively only. In the previous seven years, 8,711 people had been sentenced to that regime and almost all remain so. Almost exactly one-third of that number are in prison today, half of that third because they have never yet been released and half because they have been recalled. The rest are subject to and under threat of recall, living a nightmare life. How many of the 8,711 have finally managed to be discharged from this regime by having their licences discharged by definition 10 years or more after their initial release?

My Lords, I will provide the noble and learned Lord with the figures shortly. It is quite a complicated question—more complicated than it seems. I simply remind the House that, as a result of the new arrangements introduced in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, there is now an automatic annual referral to the Parole Board for consideration for release for these prisoners. The ability to terminate their licence after the 10 years is now baked into the system.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s response today. I thought it was right, proper and considered. I particularly welcome his emphasis on the primary purpose behind this: public protection. On the one hand, there are no doubt many tragic cases of people who have suffered from elongated imprisonment. On the other, there are many terrible cases of victims who have suffered. On the question of the pressure on the estate, could the Minister find a way of looking at why we are still sending people, including women, to prison for minor offences such as petty debts? That was supposed to be the counterbalance to the introduction of IPP in the first place, but it has never been operationally implemented.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. The Government will look at all those aspects. I echo that, in the debate the other day, if I read the transcript correctly, the word “victim” hardly figured. It is the Government’s duty to protect victims. We are dealing with very serious violent and sexual offences, so this is a very difficult question.