Tackling the legacy of the IPP

30/05/2016 17:36:00

This morning BBC Radio 4's Today programme examined the enduring legacy of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection. Nearly four years since its abolition, there are still over 4,000 people in prison serving this discredited sentence, unsure when or if they will ever be released. Four out of every five are still stuck behind bars despite having served their minimum term, no longer in prison for what they have done, but for what they might do.

The programme profiled case of James Ward, who in 2006 was given an IPP sentence with a ten month tariff, the time he must spend in prison. Ten years later he is still in prison and has no release date. You can listen to James' story by clicking here.

Prison Reform Trust director, Juliet Lyon, appeared on BBC Radio 4 to press for a case by case review for people stuck in prison on the IPP, unsure of when they will be released. Click here to listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4, and click here to listen to her interview on BBC 5 Live.

Today's welcome intervention by Ken Clarke, who abolished the sentence whilst justice secretary in 2012, and the admission by former Home Secretary David Blunkett that he regrets the injustices of the sentence, place further pressure on the government to address this injustice and outline a clear plan to confine the IPP to the history books once and for all.

Following correspondence and a meeting with the Justice Secretary, PRT noted that Michael Gove was considering how best to tackle the terrible legacy of this discredited sentence.

Writing in the Huffington Post, Juliet Lyon and PRT's head of policy and communications, Mark Day, outlined practical steps that the Ministry of Justice should take. 

Key facts

There are currently 4,133 people in prison serving an Indeterminate sentence for Public Protection.

Four-fifths (81%) of people serving an IPP sentence are still in prison despite having passed their tariff expiry date—the minimum period they must spend in custody.

Of those who have been released, on average they were held for 44 months beyond their tariff—however many people still in prison will have been held for considerably longer.

1,353 people are still being held in prison five years or more beyond their tariff, including 143 people held between 8 and ten years beyond their tariff.

The Lord Chancellor has the power to change the release test for IPP prisoners—but this power has yet to be used.


When the IPP sentence was originally introduced in 2005, it could be imposed on people who had committed an offence that would have previously attracted a relatively short determinate sentence. As a result far more were passed by the courts than the original few hundred predicted, placing huge pressure on an already overstretched prison service and Parole Board.

In 2008 reforms were introduced to limit the scope of the IPP, but this runaway sentence continued to be passed by the courts at a considerable rate. Meanwhile, a failure properly to plan and resource the sentence had left thousands of people languishing in jail, some with an original tariff of just a few weeks or so.

In 2010, the Prison Reform Trust and the Institute for Criminal Policy Research published a joint report Unjust Deserts: imprisonment for public protection. The report, said that the ill-drafted indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) had wrought havoc in the justice system and should be reviewed by the government as a matter of some urgency. 

Following near universal criticism of the sentence from judges, Parole Board members, HM Prisons Inspectorate, the Prison Governors’ Association, staff and prisoners and families alike, the IPP was eventually abolished in 2012 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. 

Despite its abolition there are still 4,133 people in prison serving an Indeterminate sentence for Public Protection.