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Prisoners: Imprisonment for Public Protection

Volume 828: debated on Wednesday 1 March 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in developing a new action plan for prisoners serving an indeterminate Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence.

My Lords, the Government committed to reviewing and refreshing the IPP action plan in line with the recommendation of the Justice Select Committee’s IPP report. HM Prison and Probation Service is currently finalising what the action plan should prioritise, the governance needed to oversee its delivery, and how progress will be tracked. The revised action plan will be published by 31 March 2023.

My Lords, the recall of prisoners on licence is crucial to this. Last year was the first year in which the number of prisoners in jail increased since the sentence was abolished in 2012, because of recall. In late 2021, the Government produced figures that appeared to show that, because of recall, the number of prisoners in 2025 would have risen by 2,600. Do the Government still stand by those projections?

My Lords, broadly speaking, in terms of order of magnitude, the projections remain the same. However, it is important to note that those figures to which my noble friend refers do not include the re-release of previously recalled prisoners. In the latest available published statistics for the latest available year, there were 214 IPP prisoners on their first release; 458 prisoners who had previously been recalled but were then re-released; and 622 recalls. I am not sure that I would accept the premise that the prison population is increasing.

My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity in relation to the action plan. One simple way of helping to reduce numbers and to free those on licence from what is quite often seen as a tyrannical regime would be to implement the small amendment agreed in this House to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill—now Act—for automatic referral at 10 years on licence. That is not currently being implemented. I would be grateful if the Minister would go back and take a look, with the probation service, at why it is not.

My Lords, as far as I am aware, that provision should be implemented. If it is not, that is a matter that I shall investigate and revert to your Lordships.

Recognising the need for public protection, my question relates to the IPP prisoners who are now detained for 10, 12 or 14 years beyond their tariff terms—that is, beyond the punishment they deserve for their offending—because they cannot prove to the Parole Board that they can be released without any risk of reoffending. It is a proof which the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, when he abolished this sentence in 2012, described as “almost impossible”. Do the Government think that is just? If so, will they continue to think it just, however many years may pass—after 15, 20 or 25 years—or do they recognise that there will come a point when it is unjust? If so, when?

In response to the noble and learned Lord, I can say that we started with 6,000 offenders in this category. We now have 1,400 who have never been released. That is because the Parole Board considers them to be a risk to public protection—they have been reviewed, in many cases several times, and that is why they are still there. A further 1,500 have been released, but they have been recalled for various reasons—but they are eligible now for re-release.

My Lords, it is well over 10 years now since I abolished indeterminate sentences with full cross-party support, including the vocal support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, the Home Secretary who introduced them, because we both agreed that they were being used on a scale, and in a way, that had never been intended or contemplated by Parliament. We never imagined that over 10 years later we would find that over 1,000 people were still serving these sentences, many of them way beyond any minimum sentence that the judge may have recommended when imposing it.

Following on from the last question, I made the mistake of assuming that the Parole Board would steadily release all such prisoners when the time was right, but I also made the mistake of putting the burden of proof on the prisoner to prove that there was no danger. That has failed and there is no point in still defending it. The Government have already rejected resentencing of all the offenders involved. Can the Minister assure me that the plan that is about to be produced will bring an end to the indeterminate, timeless detention of people for whatever crime, some of them quite minor, and replace it with a wholly new sentencing method if indeed some of these people would be a danger if released?

My Lords, the Government are well aware of the difficulties of the situation. Our approach to the present problem is that we cannot contemplate the automatic release of many of those prisoners that a resentencing exercise would involve. What we can do is better prepare them for release, especially with regard to mental health problems, and better look after them “in the community” when they are released, so that they are not available for recall. In that way, the Government hope that these figures will be substantially reduced.

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, for his tenacity on this issue, but the reality is that this group of prisoners is becoming ever more difficult to deal with. They have higher rates of mental health problems, self-harming and suicide, and higher recall rates. That is the reality of what the Prison Service is dealing with. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be specialist training for probation officers to deal with those prisoners, and for mental health workers to understand them, to try to reduce the recall rates when they are released?

My Lords, I can give that assurance. The problem is acute; it gets more difficult as time passes. The need for specialised training and proper attention to these matters is growing. The action plan will include a special supervisory board with specific responsibility for IPP prisoners, with a view to tackling this very difficult problem.

My Lords, in concert with all who have spoken, I suggest that the continued detention of so many IPP prisoners beyond their tariffs shames the criminal justice system. We have been around this course so many times, but do not the Government now appreciate that their lack of progress on this betrays a complete inconsistency? On the one hand, they agree that the abolition of IPP sentences under LASPO should have happened because continued preventive detention for prisoners who had served their time could not be justified, yet on the other they maintain and defend such a system in failing to release almost 3,000 of those prisoners—including those who have been released once—who were sentenced before LASPO but 10 years after those sentences were abolished.

My Lords, the then Government decided that the abolition of the IPP sentence should not be retrospective. The existing IPP action plan has had a certain degree of success, and the revised IPP action plan will, we hope, fully address the problem.

My Lords, to simplify the situation and make it abundantly clear: are the numbers rising or lowering in each category?

My Lords, what I want to know is whether the numbers of these prisoners are rising or lowering in each category.

They are currently, in broad terms, about the same. We have 1,400 who have never been released; we have 1,500, roughly speaking, on licence; we are releasing, including rereleases, about 600 a year; and recalls are running at slightly less than that.