We must campaign urgently to support Ken Clarke

June 29, 2011 2:56 pm

pentonville prisonBy Brian Barder / @brianlb

Recently, I celebrated what looked like the impending abolition of the vicious system of IPPs, or Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection.

It seems I spoke too soon.

Ken Clarke’s enlightened proposal to replace IPPs by longer fixed sentences for serious crimes in the Justice Bill shortly to go through parliament is under strong attack, not only from the more reactionary of the tabloids and the usual suspects on the right of the Conservative Party, but now also, incredibly, from the Labour Party in parliament: see, for example, the report in the Guardian of June 29th, including especially its report of remarks by Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan MP. There is mounting evidence that this combination of forces gearing up to oppose reform of IPPs may well inflict yet another defeat on one of the most liberal and enlightened features of Ken Clarke’s penal reform programme, already largely emasculated by the Prime Minister’s fear of the tabloids. If Labour too persists in opposing abolition of IPPs, that might well tip the scales against this reform.

So there’s an urgent need for everyone who recognises the case for ending the cruel and unjust system of IPPs to email or write to their MPs or Ed Miliband, or Sadiq Khan MP (the Labour shadow Justice secretary) or David Cameron, or as many as possible of them, urging them to put their principles before their fear of being labelled ‘soft on crime’ and to support the replacement of IPPs by fixed sentences for the most serious crimes.

Please also consider writing about it to a national or, failing that, your local newspaper. There’s an increasingly urgent need to do everything possible to stimulate support for the replacement of IPPs in the imminent Justice Bill, and in particular to try to shame the Labour leadership in the House of Commons into dropping its shocking support for the most reactionary elements in UK politics who are campaigning to keep IPPs. If you have influence with MPs, ministers or shadow ministers, or with civil rights groups such as Liberty, Justice, the Howard League, or the Prison Reform Trust, please go into top gear and do everything possible to mobilise vocal public support for ending indeterminate sentences, as currently proposed in Ken Clarke’s reform programme (what’s left of it).

Some of the arguments against IPPs are deployed, for example here, here and here, including especially the numerous ‘comments’ appended to these, many of them from the families, children, parents and lovers of the more than 3,000 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who have served the punishment element of their sentences but see no hope of ever being released.

Time is running out. Please do whatever you can, and urge your friends, colleagues and contacts to take action too.

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