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

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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The UK has the highest number of life-sentenced prisoners of any country in Europe, the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile reveals.

There are 8,554 people in prison in the UK serving a life sentence—more than France, Germany and Italy combined.

In 2016, the UK and Turkey between them comprised 66% of the total life-sentenced prison population in Europe.

Life-sentenced prisoners in the UK make up more than 10% of the total sentenced prison population, which is higher than that for any other European country—and higher than that for the United States at 9.5%.

The growth in life and other forms of indeterminate sentences in the UK has been a significant driver of the increase in the prison population and raises serious questions regarding the fairness and proportionality of their use, the Briefing says.

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Photo credit: Andy Aitchison

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Commenting on the government’s proposals announced today (28 April) for reform of the Parole Board, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“In calling for greater transparency and an appeal mechanism the Justice Secretary is pushing at a door his own department closed in the first place. The real scandal is that thousands of prisoners are still in prison many years beyond what their sentence required. That is because the prison and probation services between them have not come up with a plan for their safe release.

“A serious risk with these proposals is that without additional resource to back them we will see a return to lengthy parole delays which up until his forced resignation Nick Hardwick had been successful in tackling. Furthermore, without measures to guarantee the Board’s independence by establishing it as an independent court, there is a danger that decision making will become disproportionately risk averse.

“The Secretary of State needs to stop hiding behind the Parole Board and tackle the inadequacy of the prison and probation system for which he is personally accountable.”

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