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Inhuman Perpetual Punishment... Again

The release of IPP prisoner James Ward was widely reported today. In another part of the country, one of my IPP clients was also released today. He has also served over eleven years, nine years longer than the minimum term which was imposed by the Judge who sentenced him.

The Parole Board directed his release nearly four months ago. His hearing took place eight months later than it should have done. He has been waiting since June for a place to become available at an ‘Approved Premises’. The sentence will continue to hang over him for at least ten more years. He could be recalled to prison at any time.

Imprisonment for Public Protection

The IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentence has a punishment period (the ‘minimum term’) which is equivalent to the sentence which would have been imposed if the IPP sentence had never been invented.

IPP prisoners are not released when that term has been served. They will not be released unless they can persuade a panel of the Parole Board that there is a less than minimal chance that they may harm someone in the future.

Risk assessment is not a science. It is, at best, informed guesswork. Many IPP prisoners have found it very difficult to find the evidence to convince the Parole Board that they should be released.

The Forgotten Thousands

Parliament abolished the IPP sentence altogether in 2012 but did not convert existing IPP sentences into ‘fixed’ or ‘determinate’ sentences with an end date. Five years later there are still more than 3,000 men and women serving IPP sentences.

Practically all of these have served their punishment term.

They are being detained preventatively because of something they may (or may not) do in the future.

Lidington’s Choice

There is an alternative but it will require a politician to show courage and leadership. There has been a repetitive pattern of former Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries speaking out about the unjust nature of the sentence but only after they have left their post.

David Lidington, the current Secretary of State for Justice, has not made any public statements about IPP prisoners. When the IPP sentence was abolished the Secretary of State was given the power to change the release test for IPP prisoners.

David Lidington could begin planning immediately to release the remaining IPP prisoners. He could convert the cost of keeping IPP prisoners in custody into ‘enhanced case management in the community’.

In practical terms this would mean equipping the Probation Service, local authorities and NHS with the means to provide the kind of support and supervision that some IPP prisoners will need to enable them to cope and resettle in the community.

The average annual cost of a prison place in England and Wales is £36,259.

Keeping 3,200 IPP prisoners in custody for another two years will cost £232,057,600. That kind of money buys a lot of much-needed community resources. It might also pay for a few more prison officers. It also creates 3200 less prisoners in the creaking prison system.


IPP prisoners would still be subject to licence conditions and subject to recall. It is very likely that this would need to be retained as a safeguard for action of this kind to be politically palatable.

At the moment, recall is used too widely and recalled IPP prisoners can spend a long time in custody before the Parole Board look at their case again.

There need to be better safeguards in place for recalled prisoners. Other than in true emergencies, people should not just be recalled and then have to argue for their release. The state should have a burden of proof to satisfy before liberty is taken away again.

There are many James Wards in prisons all around the country. They are relying on their lawyers and the Parole Board to get them out and then get them out again if they are called back to prison. This shameful state of affairs needs to be brought to an end.

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