IPP: How will the changes affect you?
On 4th December, the Government tabled amendments to its Victims and Prisoners Bill to reform the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) licence. These amendments have been agreed to by MPs and are now part of the bill. If and when the bill is enacted and these changes come into force, they will provide earlier opportunities for people serving IPP sentences in the community to bring the sentence to an end by having their licence terminated.
What is the current process for licence termination?
Under current rules, people serving an IPP sentence are automatically referred to the Parole Board to have their licence considered for termination once 10 years have passed since they were first released on licence. This happens even for people who have been recalled to prison within this period.
If the Parole Board decides to terminate the licence, this means that the person is no longer serving any part of the IPP sentence and can no longer be recalled to prison on that sentence.
If, at the point of referral, the individual is in custody serving a recall against their IPP sentence, there is no licence for the Parole Board to terminate. However, the referral is still made and the Parole Board decides if the licence can be terminated when a future decision to release is made.
If the Parole Board decides that it is not yet safe to terminate an IPP licence, the case is automatically considered again by the Parole Board every 12 months after this.
When will the Parole Board review my licence under the proposed changes?
The proposed changes will reduce the qualifying period for an IPP licence termination review by the Parole Board from 10 to three years.
This means that once three years have passed since you were first released on licence for an IPP sentence, you will be automatically referred to the Parole Board by the Secretary of State for a licence review.
This will happen even if you have been recalled in that three-year period, unless you are currently in prison at the three-year point.
Whether the licence is terminated at the review will be a decision of the Parole Board based on an assessment of risk. Whereas the current test asks the Parole Board to consider whether the licence needs to stay in place, the new test will be weighted more in favour of termination – it will say that the Parole Board should terminate the licence unless there is a clear need for it to stay.
What will happen if the Parole Board does not terminate my licence at the three-year point?
If the Parole Board does not terminate your licence after the three-year point, your licence will be automatically terminated after you have spent a further two years in the community without being recalled or sent to prison for any other reason.
Under the proposed changes, the Parole Board will no longer review licences every 12 months following an unsuccessful review at the three-year point.
What will happen if I am recalled before my licence is terminated?
If you are recalled before the three-year point, you will still be automatically referred for a termination review unless you are in prison at the time the referral is due to happen.
If the Parole Board decides against terminating your licence after three years, but you are recalled before you have served a further three years in the community, those two years will begin again once you are released from custody.
What will happen if I am in prison at the three-year point?
If you are in prison at the three-year point, your case will not be considered by the Parole Board for termination as it would be under current rules.
However, the proposed changes will allow the Parole Board to release someone unconditionally if they meet both the test for release and licence conditions are not deemed necessary to protect the public.
If this does not happen, when you are released you will then have to spend a period of two years in the community without being recalled, after which your licence will be terminated automatically.
How will the changes apply to people already serving an IPP on licence in the community?
The legislation will apply to people who are already on licence for an IPP sentence in the community.
If you were first released more than three years ago but less than five years ago, you will be eligible for consideration by the Parole Board to have your licence terminated.
If you were first released five or more years ago and have been in the community without being recalled for the last two or more years, your licence will be terminated automatically when the law comes into force.
How will the changes help people serving IPP sentences who have never been released?
Unfortunately, these changes will do little to help the many people who are currently post-tariff but have never been released. The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) supports the recommendation by the Justice Select Committee for the resentencing of people on IPPs, and continues to advocate for changes to the IPP sentence. We also seek to address the barriers to progression faced more widely by people serving indeterminate sentences.
When will the new rules come into force?
It is important to understand that these changes are not yet law. The changes have been made by way of Government amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill. This means that the changes have the backing of the current Government. However, for a Bill to become law, it must be agreed to by both Houses of Parliament. The Bill has completed its progress through the House of Commons and is expected to complete its passage through the House of Lords by Easter 2024.
Unfortunately, this means that there is still a possibility that things could change before the Bill becomes law – for example, if a General Election is called before the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament, this could result in the Bill not being passed. If the Bill is passed and becomes law, it may still take several months to come into force.
Ryan Harman is advice and information manager, and Mark Day is deputy director, at the Prison Reform Trust