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Reforms announced to address ‘stain’ of indefinite prison sentences

todayNovember 28, 2023 4

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Reforms announced to address ‘stain’ of indefinite prison sentences

Thousands of offenders who are serving controversial indefinite prison sentences will no longer have to wait 10 years before they can apply to have their licence terminated under changes announced by the government.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said he was taking “decisive action” to reform the now-abolished imprisonment for public protection (IPP) regime after concerns were raised by campaigners and cross-party MPs, as reported by Sky News in September.

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) said the reforms mean more than 1,800 offenders who have been seeing out their licence period in the community could see an end to their “unjust” sentences by March 2025, in addition to about 800 people who will be eligible to have their licence period reviewed by the Parole Board.

Campaigners welcomed the move but said they were “gravely disappointed that no reforms are proposed for people trapped in prison on IPP”.

What are IPP sentences?

IPP sentences were prison sentences without a release date that courts in England and Wales could impose between 2005 and 2012.

They were intended for the most serious violent and sexual offenders who posed a significant risk of serious harm to the public but whose crimes did not warrant a life term.

Although the government’s stated aim was public protection, concerns quickly grew that IPP sentences were being applied too broadly and catching more minor offenders – with many serving time in prison much longer than their initial term.

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In light of the criticisms, IPPs were abolished in 2012 but the change was not applied retrospectively – meaning nearly 3,000 people remain behind bars under the regime.

There have long been calls from campaigners, including parliament’s own Justice Select Committee, for the government to resentence those still serving the abolished sentence.

However, successive governments have been reluctant to carry out a resentencing exercise on the grounds it could compromise public safety.

Under the IPP system, those who are released are done so on licence – during which time they can be recalled back to prison at any time if they breach certain conditions. Those on licence currently have to wait a minimum of 10 years before they can have it reviewed by the Parole Board.

The changes announced by Mr Chalk mean that those offenders who have been released from prison and are deemed to have been rehabilitated will now be referred for review after three years.

If the Parole Board does not terminate the licence after three years, it will automatically end after a further two years if the offender is not recalled to prison in that time – giving people a defined end date for their sentence for the first time.

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Those who have been recalled to prison or taken into secure hospitals will not be eligible.

Announcing the plans, Mr Chalk said the government was taking “decisive action to curtail IPP licence periods to give rehabilitated people the opportunity to move on with their lives”.

“This is a major step towards wiping away the stain of IPP sentences from our justice system, without compromising public protection,” he added.

‘One step along the road’

UNGRIPP, which campaigns on behalf of prisoners and ex-prisoners serving the IPP sentence in England and Wales, said that while it “welcomes” the justice secretary’s intervention, it was “gravely disappointed that no reforms are proposed for people trapped in prison on IPP”.

“Allowing the licence to automatically expire would give some of those serving IPP the things they lack most – certainty, hope, and the ability to plan for the future,” it said. “Things that the government itself acknowledges are crucial for reducing reoffending.

“However, we are gravely disappointed that no reforms are proposed for people trapped in prison on IPP – some as many as 18 years over tariff.

“Nobody should do 18 years longer than a judge deemed fair, in a system that time and again has proven itself unable to meet their needs.

“Today is only one step along the road to truly restoring justice and we hope that the justice secretary will consider going a step further to finally put an end to this injustice.”

Written by: Newsroom

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