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Prisoners: Imprisonment for Public Protection Sentences

Volume 819: debated on Tuesday 8 March 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to publish an action plan in respect of prisoners serving indefinite sentences for public protection; and if so, when.

My Lords, the Government will publish the imprisonment for public protection action plan following careful consideration of the findings and recommendations of the report of the Justice Select Committee on its inquiry into the IPP sentence, which is due later this spring. A version of the IPP action plan has previously been published and is in the House’s Library.

My Lords, on 15 December last year the Minister referred to his ministry’s

“successful action plan dedicated to the rehabilitation and risk reduction of IPP offenders”,—[Official Report, 15/12/22; col. 358.]

but he has politely declined to put the current version of the action plan in the public domain. Can he say whether the action plan includes the training given to probation officers in the effective supervision and support of IPP offenders?

My Lords, I think I made it clear in my first Answer that the current version of the action plan is in the Library. We are updating it but we will wait to see what the Justice Select Committee report says. I suggest to my noble friend that that is an appropriate way to proceed. As to the probation service, the action plan requires the direct involvement of the probation service and the IPP progression panels in each probation region. The panels support probation officers to manage offenders on licence and they assist in applications made to the Parole Board to suspend supervision requirements or terminate the licence.

My Lords, on International Women’s Day, it would be appropriate if the action plan took into account the very specific circumstances of women, given the Parole Board’s remit to ensure that we remain safe when prisoners are released. Perhaps the Minister could tell us this afternoon how many women prisoners have never been released when sentenced to IPP and how many are currently on licence.

My Lords, I have those figures: as at the end of September 2021, there were 19 women in custody who had never been released and 115 women in the community on licence. A qualified psychologist has reviewed the sentence plan of every woman serving an IPP sentence in custody to ensure that the plan identifies the right courses and work she needs to complete in order to demonstrate a reduction in risk.

Responding recently to the Atkin Lecture of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, on prisons, Mr Raab referred to the growing proportion of unreleased IPP prisoners who had committed “more serious offences”. May he perhaps have overlooked the 570 unreleased IPPs who have served more than 10 years beyond their tariff terms, fewer than 50 of whom had tariff terms of over four years, 200 of whom had tariff terms of less than two years—hardly sentences reflecting serious offences? Does the Minister think that they have been overlooked or merely forgotten?

My Lords, they have neither been overlooked nor forgotten. The vast majority of the IPP prisoners who have never been released received their IPP either for a serious sexual offence or for violence against the person. However, progress is being made. In December 2020, there were 1,849 IPP prisoners who had never been released. In December last year there were 1,602. That is a 13% fall in one year.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust. While we are waiting for the action plan, will the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to assist IPP prisoners with access to courses, to open conditions and to ROTL, which have been seriously affected by the pandemic but may be crucial to the IPP prisoner’s release?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. It is imperative that prisoners get that sort of support to make sure that they are in the best position they can be to be released, if they have never been released before, or to have their licence terminated. We are working with each prisoner to make sure that they have a proper pathway. The House will recall that one of the government amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was to ensure the automatic referral of offenders on licence to help them terminate their licence as soon as possible after the 10-year period.

Will the Minister please confirm that the action plan will contain measures for IPP prisoners who have been recalled? Research from the Prison Reform Trust shows that recalled prisoners struggle to cope with the indefinite nature of recall and to find the motivation to engage in the never-ending cycle of prison, release, recall and prison. What special help will be included in the action plan for them?

My Lords, I cannot go now into details of the action plan which will be published. What I can say is that we are absolutely focused on the sword of Damocles nature of the licence hanging over the prisoner. That is why we brought in the automatic referral. What I can say, though, is that prisoners are recalled from licence only when they exhibit behaviour which makes their risk unmanageable in the community. Over 40% of recalls are in relation to fresh offences committed when on licence.

My Lords, I, too, refer to my trusteeship of the Prison Reform Trust. Some years ago, Dame Anne Owers, the former prisons inspector, said that there was a link between humanity and effectiveness. Do the Government have their own view on the link between humanity and effectiveness in relation to the IPP regime? Why do we have to wait for them to be told what to say by the Justice Committee?

My Lords, I think the link between humanity and effectiveness might lie beyond a short answer to a question. What I can say is that quick fixes—such as retrospectively abolishing the IPP sentence or resentencing IPP offenders—would expose the public to unacceptable risk. We have to recognise that people were given IPP sentences because they were considered dangerous. Having said that, we are working towards making sure that all prisoners subject to an IPP sentence are properly reviewed and their sentences are progressed.

One cannot exactly call this a quick fix. The review was announced by the then Prime Minister in July 2011 and has taken until now—nearly 11 years. Why has it taken so long to even start to get to the point where we are righting this egregious injustice?

My Lords, “egregious injustice” is probably the right phrase. What came out in the debates on the police Bill was a recognition by those who proposed the IPP sentence in the first place that it was a mistake. I do not want to look back. We have made the first moves towards a proper automatic referral system. We will be publishing the action plan once we get the response of the Justice Committee. I hope that across the House we can work together to resolve this issue.

My Lords, improving the prospects for IPP offenders is important. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this must be balanced with the overriding need to protect the public?

My noble friend raises a correct point, which I sought to make in the previous answer. We must recognise that as the number of IPP offenders in custody reduces, proportionally the cohort comprises more serious offenders. Therefore, we must recognise that the rate of release is likely to slow down, given that background.

One of the reasons we have got ourselves into this situation is lack of access to rehabilitation courses inside prison. The availability of those courses has declined by over 60% over the last 10 years. This not only harms IPP prisoners but is one of the reasons why reoffending rates are so stubbornly fixed. What will the Government do to improve access to these courses for prisoners, whether or not they are on an IPP?

I do not want to get too political about it but, picking the last 10 years and talking about why we are in this position, we are in it because the Labour Government came up with IPP sentences in the first place, which is now recognised to have been a mistake. Post pandemic, we are ensuring that prisoners have the support they need to ensure that they can exit the IPP sentence, whether from custody or on licence.

My Lords, 10 years ago I was the Minister who saw through the abolition of IPP in this House. I do not doubt the Minister’s good intentions, but I had the same good intentions. I was told then that there were plans in place for retraining, for bringing courses through, et cetera. As for the danger to the public, what about the people who have been sentenced for serious offences since IPP was abolished? We manage them, and we manage them very effectively through the process. It is a Daily Mail canard to suggest that we will be sending out dangerous criminals on to the streets. The truth is that over 10 years, the Minister’s department has not delivered what was promised in the LASPO Bill: an effective programme of rehabilitation.

My Lords, I think I am the first Minister to have made a real change in this area, in the government amendments to the police Bill. Regarding the noble Lord’s other points, we have a cohort of prisoners under the IPP sentence. We must recognise that if they had not been given an IPP sentence, they might now be given a life sentence with a tariff. If you are given a life sentence with a tariff, you are on licence for the rest of your life. You never come off the licence.