The Government are committed to providing IPP prisoners with opportunities to progress to the point at which they are safe to release. Our primary responsibility is public protection. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the Parole Board are delivering a joint action plan to improve IPP prisoners’ sentence progression. In 2017-18, three quarters of those considered by the Parole Board were either recommended for release or a move to open conditions. This shows that our approach is working.
My constituent Wayne Bell is currently in the 12th year of a sentence for which the original tariff was four years. Owing to his significant mental health issues, he is unable to engage with the parole process and the review process, and his mental health problems are exacerbated by the hopelessness of his situation. Does the Secretary of State realise that prisoners with mental health issues can get trapped in a vicious cycle where it becomes almost impossible to achieve parole, and will he look at interventions that could be considered to enable Wayne’s cases and others like it to be resolved?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. I am happy to write to him on the individual case, which has a number of complexities, as I am sure he is aware. I have mentioned the joint action plan to improve IPP prisoners’ sentence progression. These measures include case reviews led by psychologists for those prisoners not making the expected progress, an increased number of places on specialist progression regimes, and greatly improved access to rehabilitative programmes. I continue to be ambitious to ensure that we do everything we can in this area, remembering that public protection must remain our priority.
In the end, it comes down to the decisions made by the Parole Board, which has to make its decisions based on public protection. In some cases— regrettable though it may be—if someone is not safe to be released, the Parole Board must make that decision. We need to ensure that we do everything we can to progress these cases as best we can. As I have said, we have made progress in recent years.
The latest figures show that there are still nearly 2,500 prisoners serving IPP sentences. These sentences often have punitive recall conditions, which means that people might be returned to prison for fairly minor breaches of their licence conditions, resulting in many prisoners serving well beyond their original tariffs. It was previously a target of the Parole Board to reduce IPP prisoner numbers to 1,500 by 2020, so what steps will the Secretary of State take to ensure that this happens?
Obviously I want to reduce the numbers, and one of the reasons that we have provided additional support to the Parole Board is to enable it to do so. In the end, it comes down to individual decisions in respect of particular individuals, and some cases present a number of challenging factors. Decisions have to strike the right balance between progressing people as we should and ensuring that we protect the public.