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The Chairman of the Parole Board, the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the former Justice Secretary Michael Gove have all separately called on the government to act to speed up the release of thousands of people serving the discredited indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection (IPP).
 
Nick Hardwick, the chairman of the Parole Board, recommended privately to both Michael Gove and the current Justice Secretary Liz Truss in July that they consider introducing legislation to convert the sentences of 634 IPP prisoners with original tariffs of less than two years into determinate sentences.
 
In his confidential advice, revealed in a freedom of information request made by the Prison Reform Trust and covered by BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Nick Hardwick expresses “real concerns” about the group of short tariff IPP prisoners who “but for their IPP would have been released many years ago”.

Also a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick recommends a change in the law to convert these sentences into their equivalent determinate sentences, or a change to the release test for this group under the provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
 
The revelation follows a speech made yesterday by the former Justice Secretary Michael Gove, in which he called on his successor Liz Truss to use “the power of executive clemency for those 500 or so IPP prisoners who have been in jail for far longer than the tariff for their offence and have now – after multiple parole reviews – served even longer than the maximum determinate sentence for that index offence.”
 
In his lecture to the Longford Trust, held in association with the Prison Reform Trust, Michael Gove offers his support to Nick Hardwick - “the superb new Chairman of the Parole Board” - recommending that he “is given the resources and flexibility to ensure more IPP cases can be processed and more individuals released – ideally with the increased use of GPS tags in some cases.”
 
Today also sees the publication of a thematic review on IPP prisoners by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which calls for “decisive action” by the Justice Secretary to reduce the number of prisoners serving an IPP who are still in prison years after the end of their tariff.
 
The report found that “for many IPP prisoners, it is not clear that holding them well beyond their end-of-tariff date is in the interests of public protection and therefore there are issues of fairness and justice”.
 
It also found that the cost to the public purse of continuing to hold high numbers of IPP prisoners, and the pressures IPP prisoners exert on the system in terms of risk management activity, demand for offending behaviour programmes and parole processes, are “significant”; and that “resources are being stretched increasingly thinly”.

The IPP sentence was abolished in 2012; but the effect of Parole Board delays, limited resources, poor procedures for managing risk and a lack of available places on offending behaviour programmes means that many IPP prisoners are held for years beyond their original tariff. 
 
3,859 people are in prison serving an IPP sentence. Four out of every five IPP prisoners are still stuck behind bars despite having served their minimum term.
 
Statistics released by the Prison Reform Trust in June showed IPP prisoners have one of the highest rates of self-harm in the prison system, highlighting the impact of ongoing incarceration on the mental health and wellbeing of IPP prisoners. 
 
Nick Hardwick’s advice was sent to the Ministry of Justice in the summer and maps out legislative and non-legislative options for speeding up the release of the 3,200 people serving an IPP sentence held beyond their original tariff expiry date.
 
In an accompanying letter to Michael Gove dated 7 July 2016, a copy of which was also sent to Liz Truss shortly after her appointment, he raises particular concerns about the 634 people with an original tariff of less than two years but who are still in custody beyond their tariff.
 
This group would not have been eligible to receive an IPP sentence if they had been convicted of an offence following reforms to the sentence introduced in 2009. Many would have been likely to have received a relatively short determinate sentence. Of this group, more than half (364 people) remain in prison seven years or more past their original tariff expiry date. Nine people are still in prison 10 years or more past the expiry date.
 
In his letter to Michael Gove, Nick Hardwick states:

“I personally have real concerns about the IPPs who received tariffs of less than two years, and but for their IPP would have been released many years ago. I think we should consider conversion of the sentences or a reversal of the risk test for this group specifically, so that they would only remain in prison if there was evidence that they were a risk to the public, rather than evidence that they were not.”

The advice sets out a plan which, without legislation, would enable the Parole Board to release “around 2,600 of the remaining 4,133 IPPs within the next 4 years” but makes clear that a faster rate of release would require a change in the law. The legislative options outlined include:

  • Conversion of IPP sentences into their equivalent determinate sentences
  • Establishing a “sunset” provision for all or some IPP sentences
  • Changing the Parole Board release test under the provisions of the LASPO Act 2012

The advice also raised concerns about the proportionality of licence periods attached to IPP sentences and a rise in the number of recalls of IPP prisoners. It sets out proposals for changing the length of licence periods and arrangements for the recall of IPP prisoners.
 
Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
 
“We are reaching the limit of what staff on the ground can do to mitigate the injustice faced by prisoners serving this discredited sentence. As the Chair of the Parole Board, the former Justice Secretary Michael Gove and the Chief Inspector of Prisons have indicated, it needs a political decision to cut through the bureaucratic knots that have entangled some prisoners for years. Liz Truss is entitled to feel frustrated at the failure of her predecessors to tackle the IPP’s toxic legacy, but she now has to be the Justice Secretary who does.”


Documents from Freedom of Information request

Letter to Michael Gove from Nick Hardwick—7 July 2016

Letter to Elizabeth Truss from Nick Hardwick—28 July 2016

IPP paper—July 2016