Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP)

The indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) was introduced in England and Wales in 2005. It was intended for people considered ‘dangerous’ but whose offence did not merit a life sentence.

In common with the life sentence it contains three elements.

  1. A ‘tariff’ that is a period of imprisonment judged to be a just dessert for the crime committed.

  2. An unlimited time of detention until the person can prove that they are no longer a threat to the public.

  3. Release back into the community under licence, with the potential of return back to custody.

Following its introduction, it became increasingly clear that the IPP sentence was having severe and unforeseen consequences both for prisoners and their families and criminal justice agencies involved in the administration of the sentence. In 2010, PRT’s research report Unjust Deserts highlighted the Kafkaesque obstacles the sentence put in place of prisoners in obtaining legitimate release, describing it as “one of the least carefully planned and implemented pieces of legislation in the history of British sentencing”. In the same year, a joint report by the chief inspectors of prisons and probation concluded that IPP sentences were “unsustainable”.

Seven years after its introduction, the IPP sentence was abolished in 2012 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. However, the Act was not retrospective, meaning that today thousands of people in prison and the community remain subject to the sentence and an indefinite period of detention and supervision. PRT continues to press for a fair and just outcome for these individuals who were left out of the government’s decision to abolish the IPP.


How many people are affected?

Over 8,000 IPP sentences were imposed in total, and there are more than 2,000 people currently in prison serving an IPP who have yet to be released.

More than nine in 10 people have already served their tariff period—the minimum period they must spend in custody.


IPP sentences: the facts

Find out more about the sentence and its continuing legacy, click here to read our short briefing.


Our work on IPPs

Amendments on IPPs were debated yesterday in the House of Lords report stage debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. In response the Minister Lord Wolfson committed to bringing forward a government amendment at third reading to reform the licence review process.

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Ahead of next week’s House of Lords report stage debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Prison Reform Trust has published a joint briefing with the Howard League for Penal Reform, Criminal Justice Alliance, Sentencing Academy and UNGRIPP. The joint briefing is in support of amendments relating to the sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection, due to be debated in the first half of next week.

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Commenting on the announcement today (21 September) that the House of Commons Justice Committee has launched an inquiry into the IPP sentence, Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications at the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Despite its abolition nearly a decade ago, the IPP sentence continues to cast a long and doleful shadow over our justice system. Without urgent action, we soon face the prospect of a growing IPP prisoner population, as the numbers being recalled to custody outstrips those being released. We welcome this inquiry by the respected cross-party justice committee, and hope it will be the catalyst needed for the government to finally confront and deal with the toxic legacy of this unjust sentence.”

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HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has published a guide to assist families and significant others who have a loved one serving an indeterminate sentence, such as a Life or IPP sentence.

The guide builds on the joint Prison Reform Trust and University of Southampton report, ‘A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs’, written by Dr Harry Annison and Christina Straub, which we published in 2019. The report recommended that HMPPS should “develop appropriate information materials for families that explain the systems, processes and responsibilities related to the IPP sentence.”

The guide goes some way to meeting that recommendation, and aims to improve understanding of key stages during the sentence; suggests ways to support progression; and where to find more information and support.

Click here to download a copy of the guide.

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Commenting on the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the rule which currently requires all parole hearings to be held in private will be relaxed, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“We are disappointed that the government has decided to press ahead with its plan for some parole hearings to be held in public. There is a clear expectation that the Board will only agree to public hearings rarely, however, and there is now a further process of consultation required to devise the procedural rules which will be needed to safeguard a fair process. Part of this must include whether the Board has the necessary independence and powers to ensure its decision making is not subject to political interference.

“No other aspect of the ‘root and branch’ review of parole has yet been made subject to consultation, and we can only hope that the review will now turn its attention to the question of why so few people are released on their parole eligibility date. The key issues are not about the Parole Board but about the prison and probation systems on which prisoners rely in order to be safely released in the first place, and to make a successful return to the community when they are.”

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We wrote to the Lord Chancellor just before Christmas complaining about the wholly improper comment from an unnamed government source in a Daily Telegraph article about “Helen’s Law”. That law puts into statute an existing Parole Board policy and practice of taking into account any refusal to disclose the whereabouts of a victim’s body. The quote from the source implied an obvious threat to the Board’s future standing if it took decisions in such cases that appeared to go against public opinion—quite plainly not what the law requires and not what the Parole Board is for.

We have now received a response from the prisons minister. The response ignores the specific complaint, but does give a clear commitment to the board’s continuing independence. It sheds no further light on how the current “root and branch” review of parole is being led or conducted, however, and the history of internal MoJ reviews in this area does little to reassure.

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New research by the Prison Reform Trust, published today (3 December), reveals the mental anguish faced by the growing number of people serving sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) recalled to prison for breach of their licence conditions – a population which has nearly tripled in the past five years.

One recalled IPP prisoner interviewed for the report despaired of having “no life, no freedom, no future” under the discredited sentence, which was abolished in 2012.

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The families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences are not getting enough help to deal with the painful burden of supporting their relative through their sentence, a joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Southampton University reveals.

The IPP was abolished in 2012, but there are still 2,223 people in prison serving the sentence, nine in 10 of whom are passed their tariff expiry date. A further 1,206 people are in prison having been recalled while serving an IPP sentence in the community. The latest Ministry of Justice statistics show that the recall rate now exceeds the rate of release for people serving IPPs.

A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs, found that the pains and barriers faced by the families of people serving IPP sentences have not sufficiently been addressed by criminal justice agencies.

One family member, quoted in the report said “As a family it has destroyed us, and we need all the support we can get."

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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