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11 November 2019

Families need more help to deal with the pains of IPP imprisonment

The families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences are not getting enough help to deal with the painful burden of supporting their relative through their sentence, a joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Southampton University reveals.

The report by Dr Harry Annison and Christina Straub is supported by funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

“As a family it has destroyed us, and we need all the support we can get”

Family member interviewed for the report

Another said: “I’ve been doing this since my early forties. I’m 59 next birthday. It has consumed my life. I haven’t had a life for myself…It’s not fair.”

The IPP was abolished in 2012, but there are still 2,223 people in prison serving the sentence, nine in 10 of whom are passed their tariff expiry date. A further 1,206 people are in prison having been recalled while serving an IPP sentence in the community. The latest Ministry of Justice statistics show that the recall rate now exceeds the rate of release for people serving IPPs.

A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs, found that the pains and barriers faced by the families of people serving IPP sentences have not sufficiently been addressed by criminal justice agencies.

This meant that the valuable contribution families can make to the successful rehabilitation and resettlement of IPP prisoners was not being realised.

In his independent review on strengthening family ties, Lord Farmer said that family and other supportive relationships are a ‘golden thread’ that should run through efforts by the penal system to support prisoners, where families should be ‘seen as a vital resource and…treated as valued allies in the rehabilitation cause’.

The findings and recommendations of the report are based on detailed consultation with the families of IPP prisoners as well as close engagement with criminal justice and voluntary sector organisations involved in the management and supervision of people serving IPPs.

The report identifies a need for clearer information, more consistent communication, the provision of specific support for families, and a recognition by practitioners of the painful legacy and history of the IPP sentence and its impact on prisoners and their loved ones.

“The officers do not really understand IPP, they treat them like any prisoner on a determinate sentence, which they are not. It is stressful not knowing when they will come home, and they think about that every day while they are inside.”

Family member interviewed for the report

The report calls for additional information, guidance and support for families on issues such as progression, licence and recall; and action to mitigate some of the pains experienced by families as a result of the unique burden of supporting a relative on an IPP.

Commenting, Dr Annison said:

“Families of people serving IPPs carry considerable burdens in supporting their relative through their sentence. All criminal justice organisations should avoid inadvertently placing further burdens on those who have often given years of devoted support to their relative. Additional information, guidance and support for families, and actions to ameliorate some of the pains experienced, would help to ease the burden on families and enable them to better support their loved ones in prison and on release.”

Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“The suffering caused by this disastrous sentence goes on and on. It extends far beyond the people still unjustly held in prison, affecting parents, partners and children, all totally innocent. Legislation is needed to finish the job of putting right the injustice done to so many by the IPP sentence. But in the meantime there is scope to do more to support families, reducing their pain and helping them to help their loved ones make a success of life after release.

About the IPP sentence

Introduced in 2005, IPPs were designed to detain serious offenders who were perceived to be a risk to the public indefinitely. People serving an IPP are required to serve a minimum tariff after which release is determined by the Parole Board. Those who are released are subject to an indefinite period of supervision on licence, subject to review after 10 years.

The Home Office initially estimated that the sentence would result in 900 people going to prison. However, over 8,000 IPP sentences were imposed, placing severe strain on prison, probation and parole board resources. Resulting delays to parole hearings and difficulties accessing offending behaviour programmes in prison, which were considered necessary in order to demonstrate reduced risk, left many prisoners struggling to work towards their legitimate release.

As a result of these concerns and mounting legal challenges, the IPP sentence was abolished in 2012. However, its abolition was not retrospective, and today there are still 2,223 people in prison serving the sentence who have never been released. Nine in 10 people (93%) serving an IPP sentence are still in prison having passed their tariff expiry date—the minimum period they must spend in custody and considered necessary to serve as punishment for the offence. 358 people are still in prison despite being given a tariff of less than two years—more than half of these (187 people) are still in prison over a decade after their original tariff expired.

Release and recall rates

The rate of release for IPP prisoners has increased sharply in the last four years, but has gone into reverse in the last year. The latest Ministry of Justice caseload management statistics reveal that the recall rate now exceeds the rate of release for people serving IPPs:

  • More IPP prisoners were returned to custody after licence recall than were released from custody in the past 12 months. In the year from 1 July 2018 – 30 June 2019, there were 433 releases of IPP prisoners, but 636 IPP prisoners were returned to custody after licence recall.
  • By contrast, over the previous year (1 July 2017 – 30 June 2018) the releases were higher than the numbers returned to custody after recall (568 released and 559 recalled).
  • There are 1,206 people serving an IPP sentence who are back in prison having been previously released—a 25% increase in only a year.