At last – Indeterminate Sentences are about to be abolished

November 25, 2012 6:26 pm

The Ministry of Justice has at last set the date for the abolition of Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs), in accordance with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 1 May 2012.  From 3 December 2012, no more IPPs will be handed down.  But abolition, however welcome, is not retrospective:  it doesn’t affect those currently serving IPPs, nor those who may receive IPPs between now and the 3rd of next month, although there seem to be some signs that the processing of applications for release by IPP prisoners who are past their tariffs is being somewhat accelerated and improved.

This is the most welcome culmination of years of campaigning against a huge injustice in our penal system, a campaign supported by every significant civil rights organisation and expert but passing almost unnoticed in parliament and the media. It has been the subject of numerous posts on various blogs (including LabourList and this) and of literally hundreds of comments on them, mostly from the relatives and other loved ones of IPP prisoners suffering justified fears that they may never be released, despite never having committed any offence serious enough to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment.

The problems facing the 6,000 or more prisoners now serving IPPs are not by any means resolved, but at least we know that the relevant ministers and their department are aware of them;  and it’s probably unrealistic to suppose that there will be a single dramatic identifiable move to resolve them.  It will now be for each individual IPP prisoner and his family and solicitors to do whatever they can to remedy specific shortcomings in the management of their cases, appealing to their MPs and the Justice Secretary and their prison authorities and the Independent Prison Monitors and the local newspapers as appropriate for support, and doing everything possible to satisfy their parole boards that they have reduced the risk of reoffending on release to acceptably low levels.

It’s bleak and obvious advice but probably the most realistic that can be offered.

Meanwhile it will be of some comfort to know that a major blot on our system of justice is within sight of being removed.  If there’s one thing about it that’s a matter for deep regret, it’s that this long overdue reform owes absolutely nothing to the Labour party in parliament, whose leaders have been consistently ambiguous or even openly hostile to the abolition of this evil and unjust régime.  The LibDems have remained almost entirely silent, and the sole credit for a brave and necessary reform belongs to a handful of Conservative ministers, including notably Ken Clarke and now Chris Grayling, the present Justice Secretary and his immediate predecessor.

  • aracataca

    ‘despite never having committed any offence serious enough to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment’
    No but IPPS are usually given out for stuff like violent rapes or multiple sexual assaults on children.
    IPPs were introduced because the sentences themselves are far too short and rates of recidivism are colossal. Furthermore, serious offenders like rapists could go through their prison sentences (typically half of the length stipulated by the judges) without ever having to address their offending behaviour- another reason why IPPs were introduced. What kind of messages do lenient sentences send to those who, in the face of multiple difficulties and hardships (financial and otherwise), elect to do the right thing and play by the rules?

  • aracataca

    ‘despite never having committed any offence serious enough to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment’
    No but IPPS are usually given out for stuff like violent rapes or multiple sexual assaults on children.
    IPPs were introduced because the sentences themselves are far too short and rates of recidivism are colossal. Furthermore, serious offenders like rapists could go through their prison sentences (typically half of the length stipulated by the judges) without ever having to address their offending behaviour- another reason why IPPs were introduced. What kind of messages do lenient sentences send to those who, in the face of multiple difficulties and hardships (financial and otherwise), elect to do the right thing and play by the rules?

    • brianbarder

      I’m afraid this is wide of the mark. Violent rapes and multiple sexual assaults would normally qualify for a life sentence, not an IPP. It’s easy to judge the seriousness of the offence for which an IPP has been given by the length of the tariff, generally around half the length of a determinate sentence for the same offence in similar circumstances. Many IPP tariffs have been just a few months — not the kind of sentence that would be given for a really serious offence. Many IPP prisoners have served for several years beyond their tariffs (i.e. the punishment part of their sentences) and are still incarcerated just because of the Kafkaesque impossibility of proving to a sceptical and risk-averse parole board that they won’t reoffend if released. This nightmare regime should never have been introduced (by a Labour home secretary, I’m ashamed to say — David Blunkett), it should never have been allowed to continue (by five or six Labour successors, including Jack Straw who tinkered with it), and it should not have had to wait for a Tory Justice Secretary to have the guts to abolish it. Not a story to be proud of.

      • aracataca

        We’re going to have to disagree on this. First you say ‘many’ IPP tariffs have been just a few months when what you mean is a tiny number of IPPs have been just a few months Many rapists and those who carry out sexual assaults on children are in denial about their offences and do not appreciate or understand that what they have done is wrong. They go through their sentences maintaining their innocence and do not participate in any offending behaviour courses and are released halfway through their sentences without making any attempt to address their offending behaviour. How does that make sense? IPPs were introduced in order to ensure that offenders could not be allowed out of prison until they had addressed their offending behaviour.

        • brianbarder

          I’m satisfied that the number of IPPs with a tariff of months rather than years is very far from tiny. Neither of us has an exact figure but I have the evidence of several hundreds of ‘comments’ posted on my blog citing concrete examples. Can you quote any specific cases of IPPs given for serious rape or repeated cases of sexual assault? In any case, the whole IPP regime has now been abolished by a government that has repeatedly condemned it as unjust, ineffectual and in contravention of basic principles. Over 3,000 people are indefinitely incarcerated at this moment despite having completed the punishment awarded to them for their original offences but unable to prove from their prison cells that they won’t reoffend if released. Another nearly 3,000 will complete their punishments over the next year or two and join those who are no longer being punished but being kept in punitive prison conditions in preventive detention, not for what they have done but because some men in suits think they might do something in future if freed. Over 6,000 people will then be in this nightmarish situation, which is tantamount to a life sentence for offences not serious enough to warrant sentences of life-long imprisonment, all as a result of a deeply flawed system which will have been abolished from 3 December this year. Do you defend that situation?

          • aracataca

            Re: first point ‘Can you quote any specific cases of IPPs given for serious rape’ – Red Saunders who was recently convicted of raping a 4 year old girl received an IPP. I am sure you would agree that this was an appropriate sentence. 12 years (serve 6 with no obligation to complete offending behaviour courses) is the standard sentence for this offence which in my view is inadequate.

          • brianbarder

            No, of course I don’t agree that an IPP was “an appropriate sentence” in the case which you cite, or indeed in any other. First, no IPP can be regarded as “appropriate” when the whole IPP system has been roundly condemned by the government and by every authority on penal policy and by every civil rights body and expert, and when that system is within days of being abolished, unmourned. Secondly, I can’t sensibly judge, without having attended the trial of Red Saunders and heard all the evidence and any mitigating factors taken into account by the judge, whether a 12-year determinate sentence, with the likelihood of release on licence after 6 years, would have been too lenient, too harsh, or about right. Nor can you sensibly make that judgement, unless you attended the trial of Red Saunders and heard all the evidence and any mitigating factors. Perhaps you did. If not, your opinion can’t carry much if any weight.

            I note however that you have not sought to defend this manifestly flawed system under which thousands of people who have already been punished for their offences are kept in punitive conditions indefinitely, potentially for the rest of their lives, in what is plainly preventive detention, because of the logical impossibility of proving a negative about their actions in a purely hypothetical future. Does this situation, now applying to more than 3,000 people and soon nearly 3,000 or so more, seem to you to be reconcilable with basic principles of justice? It doesn’t seem so to me, or indeed to anyone else who has given the matter more than a moment’s thought (except those responsible for devising and sustaining it, presumably).

          • aracataca

            However, the judge, who did hear all the evidence, made the wrong decision in you view.
            I agree with the judge. Sanders needs to do his offending behaviour courses before he can be released.

          • brianbarder

            Since the IPP system was (and still is) still in force at the time of Sanders’s trial, I doubt whether the judge had the option of passing a determinate sentence in the case you refer to, but without knowing much more about it, I can’t be sure. Whether he or she had that option or not, an IPP sentence, like all IPPs by definition, was on any reckoning unjust and inappropriate, but the judge may well not have been to blame in this particular case.

            You seem to think that once Sanders has done a reoffending course, he will qualify for release. This is not so. Innumerable IPP prisoners have done at least one course for which they have been recommended, and in very many cases more than one, and they still can’t satisfy the parole boards that they won’t reoffend on release. How can they? Until very recently only around 4% of IPP prisoners have ever been released (I haven’t seen any more recent figures). This is preventive detention gone mad. All of us are potential future offenders. Even the members of parole boards can’t predict the future. Once an offender has completed the punishment prescribed by the court, he or she is absolutely entitled to be released, period. There is no place in a just society in peacetime (or even, in Churchill’s eventual view, in wartime) for preventive detention — locking people up for fear of what they might do in the future.

            This monstrous system is at last being swept away, yet thousands of its victims still languish behind bars, prevented by the discredited system’s Kafkaesque requirements from regaining their freedom, and even from knowing whether they will ever see their homes again. It’s monstrous.

          • aracataca

            As I’ve indicated we aren’t going to agree on this. I am disappointed that you think 6 years imprisonment (without ever having to address one’s offending behaviour) for someone who has raped a small child is OK.
            I beg to differ.

          • brianbarder

            You haven’t read what I wrote:

            I can’t sensibly judge, without having attended the trial of Red
            Saunders and heard all the evidence and any mitigating factors taken
            into account by the judge, whether a 12-year determinate sentence, with the likelihood of release on licence after 6 years, would have been too lenient, too harsh, or about right. Nor can you sensibly make that judgement…

            Which you may care to admit is rather radically different from saying it was “OK”.

            And you still haven’t offered any defence of the IPP system — but I don’t blame you for that, since there isn’t one.

            As far as I’m concerned, that terminates our rather unsatisfactory discussion.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I think you are both correct – Brian on the principles you lay out of preventive detention being “monstrous”, and Aracataca on (I paraphrase) this case – and by my inference, many others – being unduly lenient in the “punishment” aspect.

            If Red Saunders had been sentenced to 40 years, with no IPP, that would probably have been just.

          • brianbarder

            According to http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-20470501, Red Saunders was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of eight years, and a warning by the judge that he might never be released. Of course the BBC may have got it wrong, but it looks as if he didn’t receive an IPP sentence at all — which is exactly what I would have expected, given the enormity of his offence. So it appears that the case has no relevance whatever to the subject of my post.

            The Huffington Post report of the case confirms the life sentence but mentions that the judge gave Saunders concurrent sentences on a number of other charges, and it’s possible that one or more of these might have been an IPP: but if so, the IPP element would have been irrelevant because the life sentence obviously overrides it. I don’t think the most severe commentator can accuse this judge of undue leniency.

            PS: The Crown Prosecution Service website definitively confirms that the principal sentence was one of life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of eight years, not an IPP. Case closed,

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            (sentenced to a )…”life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of eight years”.

            That is the problem. Anyone sentenced to a life sentence should be dying in prison, whether it be 2 years, 20 years or 80 years from the time of sentence. This is my opinion, and as valid as anyone elses’.

            You may feel it otiose to discuss further, but you are not in control of the discussion on an article you write and choose to publish for others to comment upon, and which bounds of discussion you cannot limit. It happens that I agree with you on the principles of preventive detention being monstrous, but when my view on the appropriate length of punitive sentence differs from your’s, you wish to declare the discussion “otiose” and withdraw? That is like picking up your rugby ball and running away from the game if the score is against you.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            (sentenced to a )…”life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of eight years”.

            That is the problem. Anyone sentenced to a life sentence should in the absence of successful appeal be dying in prison, whether it be 2 years, 20 years or 80 years from the time of sentence. This is my opinion, and as valid as anyone elses’.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            (sentenced to a )…”life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of eight years”.

            That is the problem. Anyone sentenced to a life sentence should in the absence of successful appeal be dying in prison, whether it be 2 years, 20 years or 80 years from the time of sentence. This is my opinion, and as valid as anyone elses’.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            (sentenced to a )…”life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of eight years”.

            That is the problem. Anyone sentenced to a life sentence should in the absence of successful appeal be dying in prison, whether it be 2 years, 20 years or 80 years from the time of sentence. This is my opinion, and as valid as anyone elses’.

          • brianbarder

            Whoa! Hold on! I wouldn’t dream of trying to prevent you or anyone else from posting comments here, or anywhere else, on any subject under the sun. I merely pointed out that a few minutes’ research on the Web showed that the case of Red Saunders is wholly irrelevant to the subject of my post, to which comments are generally assumed to relate. By all means use the post to express your views on the desirable length of life sentences: it would make an interesting subject for a new blog post, but it really isn’t relevant here. That’s all I was saying — basically to explain why I wouldn’t feel under any obligation to comment any further on a matter so far removed from the original post.

            I have broken that resolution so soon only to correct your inexplicably angry misinterpretation of my use of the word ‘otiose’. In a discussion of IPPs, it’s clearly otiose to prolong a discussion of a case that has nothing to do with IPPs, and which was introduced into the discussion (not by yourself) in what turns out to have been a misleading and misinformed way. That’s all I said, and all I need to say. Good night!

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            (To be fair to Brian, my post contained an original short paragraph in which I felt his use of the word “otiose” was too much and that he was trying to confine the debate to purely grounds of his own choosing, and which after 2-3 minutes of reflection I felt was unfair and so deleted. It appears from Brian’s response that he saw that, and responded, but of course now what is visible makes his response somewhat off the mark. Our comments “crossed in the post”, but the LL comment system seems to not operate in “real time”)

            I do apologise, Brian, except for a 1% “get out” that as this Red Saunders does have an IPP, it is still relevant to the discussion, even if 99% of the other cases are not so much..

          • brianbarder

            Many thanks for the explanation, Jaime. In the light of it, I have deleted my rather sharp response to your now non-existent comment!

            But I would still be interested to know the basis for your statement that Red Saunders “does have an IPP”. I can’t find any evidence that this is so. But even if he does have an IPP to add to his collection of other sentences for his other offences, the IPP aspects of it are obviously overridden by his non-IPP sentence of imprisonment for life, with no right to consideration for release on licence or parole for at least 8 years and a warning by the judge that he’s unlikely ever to be released. So I would still maintain that this case has no relevance to the issue of IPPs, the subject of my post here, except as support for my original observation that IPPs are not awarded for the most serious offences, which are punished by sentences of life imprisonment instead.

  • aracataca

    ‘despite never having committed any offence serious enough to warrant a sentence of life imprisonment’
    No but IPPS are usually given out for stuff like violent rapes or multiple sexual assaults on children.
    IPPs were introduced because the sentences themselves are far too short and rates of recidivism are colossal. Furthermore, serious offenders like rapists could go through their prison sentences (typically half of the length stipulated by the judges) without ever having to address their offending behaviour- another reason why IPPs were introduced. What kind of messages do lenient sentences send to those who, in the face of multiple difficulties and hardships (financial and otherwise), elect to do the right thing and play by the rules?

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