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Criminal Justice: Imprisonment for Public Protection

Volume 808: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to implement the reforms proposed in the report by the Prison Reform Trust No life, no freedom, no future, published on 3 December.

My Lords, the Government will carefully consider the recommendations in this report. However, it is not the case that those serving an IPP sentence have no life, future or freedom. Many have been released and not been recalled. When it has been necessary on public protection grounds to recall offenders, HM Prison and Probation Service works closely with them so that the Parole Board may direct their re-release as early as it is safe to do so.

My Lords, I confess that I am disappointed in that response. Surely it is obvious that the recall provisions are causing real problems and injustices and need radical change. How many IPP prisoners following release have completed 10 years on licence? Of these, how many have applied for the cancellation of their licence and how many have been successful?

The latest published figures show that the unreleased IPP population now stands at 1,895. It has reduced from 2,223 at the end of September. This is good progress, especially as, at its highest in 2012, it was 6,000. I do not have time to give the other figures, but I will make sure the noble and learned Lord gets them in writing.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is much neighbouring European evidence of successful rehabilitation of all prisoners? They do far better than we do on recidivism. Not only do they do better, but they do it in a more humane way and, in many instances, much more cost-effectively than in this country. In those circumstances, would the Minister be prepared to invite some of our more successful present European partners, such as the Danes, to come here to help us look at what is happening with our prison system and help us to improve it to the kind of standards they have?

I will take the noble Lord’s ideas back to the service. However, we have to remember that an offender serving an IPP sentence may only be recalled when they have breached their licence conditions in such a way as to indicate that they are a risk, and that risk has escalated to a level where they can no longer be safely managed in the community.

My Lords, the report recognises the importance of good family and other relationships in stabilising the inherently unstable IPP situation. It particularly mentions how meaningful activities such as caring responsibilities provide positive structure. The report also frequently refers to released IPP prisoners becoming resettled into good family and other relationships, only for these to be re-ruptured when they are recalled. How is the protective factor against reoffending, that is rehabilitative relationships, taken into account in recall decisions?

My Lords, when considering recalling an offender whose escalating behaviour is increasing their risk, offender managers will look at all protective factors in place, especially where there is a positive, family support network, and ensure that any safe alternatives to recall are explored in the first instance.

My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register, in particular my position as a joint life president of the Prison Reform Trust. Does the Minister accept the contents of that report and, if so, does she agree that, unfortunately, the method of getting rid of this category of prisoners is being too long delayed?

As I have previously answered, the Government are carefully considering the recommendations in the report—it came out only on 3 December—and we will look at those recommendations for the future.

My Lords, the Minister seems to be defending the recall of prisoners when they breach their licensing conditions. As the report has shown, this is a source of an increasing number of prisoners on IPP sentences being recalled for breaching their licence conditions. Is the Minister satisfied that there needs to be a positive review of this way back into the prison sentence, given that the offenders who are recalled are very often mentally unstable and need protection as much as they are offending criminals?

My Lords, public protection has to be the Government’s priority. We recall only those IPP offenders who are assessed by those managing them to present an unacceptably high risk of harm to the general public. However, of course, we need to look after them, support them, and try to help them to stay out in our communities safely.

With recalls in the last five years up 187%, at this rate some IPP prisoners will never be released, under a sentence that has now been discredited and abolished. Does the Minister agree that we need to give them a date after which they cannot be recalled, as well as proper resources, planning and support to help redress the injustice they face every day and to help them make a success of life on the outside?

As I have said before, public protection has to be our priority. We recall only those assessed as posing an unacceptably high risk of harm to the general public. But of course we need to keep this under review, and each of those cases and offenders is under constant review.

My Lords, imprisonment for public protection is a controversial sentence, but it has been seen to be effective in some high-profile cases. Has the European Court of Human Rights looked at these sentences and, if so, what conclusions has it drawn?

My Lords, the European Court of Human Rights and the Supreme Court looked at the IPP issue and found that detention post-tariff for such sentences could become arbitrary and thus unlawful where no opportunity for progress was provided by the state, but the state does provide opportunity for progression.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the number of IPP prisoners who have mental health issues, especially recall prisoners? Were they suffering from mental health issues before or because of their prolonged incarceration? Also, what specialist mental health provision, tailored to their specific, individual needs, are the Government providing for IPP prisoners before and after release?

My Lords, every prisoner has a key worker, who is dedicated to providing support for individual prisoners at any one time and to understanding any mental health issues they might have. We are also working very closely with the Samaritans in our prisons and are supporting the excellent Listener scheme, in which prisoners help other prisoners with emotional support. Last but not least are the four key priorities for prison managers’ training. This includes an awareness training module for staff to identify and recognise mental health issues and substance misuse.

Sitting suspended.