THE PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE that scrutinises the work of the UK Justice Ministry has expressed regret that the government has rejected its recommendation to review all sentences imposed under legislation that effectively allows for indefinite terms of imprisonment, known as Imprisonment for Public Protections (IPP).

IPP sentences were introduced to prevent serious offenders being released when still a danger to the public. They were scrapped in 2012, but nearly 3000 people remain in prison under the legislation, with almost half of these having been recalled to prison after earlier being released.

The Justice Committee said in a report published in September 2022 that IPP sentences were “irredeemably flawed”. The Committee found there was inadequate provision of support services, both inside and outside prison, to allow for the realistic possibility of rehabilitation of IPP prisoners and called in its report for the re-sentencing of them all. The government has rejected this key recommendation in its response to the committee’s report.

The Justice Committee also found that IPP sentences caused hopelessness and despair, giving rise to higher levels of self-harm and suicide among the IPP cohort of prisoners.

Another key recommendation in the Committee’s report was to reduce the licence period during which released IPP prisoners can be recalled to custody for breach of their conditions, from ten years to five. However, the government has also rejected this recommendation.

The Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill said: This is a missed opportunity to right a wrong that has left nearly 3,000 people behind. The Committee recognised that addressing this issue would not be easy – that’s why we recommended that a small, time-limited committee of experts be set up to advise on the re-sentencing exercise.

“We are not only disappointed with this government response but genuinely surprised. There is now a growing consensus that a resentencing exercise is the only way to comprehensively address the injustice of IPP sentences and that this can be done without prejudicing public protection.

“Our report said this nettle needed to be grasped by all three branches of the State – Government, Parliament and the Judiciary. But the government has not listened. The nettle has not been grasped and, as a result, these people will remain held in an unsustainable limbo.”

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The Justice Committee’s sensible and practical recommendations deserved more than this pitiful response from the government. Thousands of families have been torn apart by the IPP scandal; ministers have given them nothing.

“Each week, the Howard League receives letters from IPP prisoners. The most recent was from a man who was recommended to serve two-and-half years but remains stuck inside 16 years later.

“Many of those who write to me say that they feel forgotten. I think this response shows that they are not forgotten – the decision has been taken to keep them in prison indefinitely. A decision has been taken to extend their suffering. The Howard League will continue to fight to end this injustice.”

* Read the Justice Committee’s report on IPPs here.

* Sources: Justice Committee and Howard League for Penal Reform