Many of us have suffered with the lockdown. Being kept away from loved ones, and told to stay home, with no idea of when it would end. Some suffering more than others, but with many of us surrounded by home comforts. This lasted a few months, and now lockdown 2.0 has begun throughout the UK.

Now imagine being locked up in prison, for years, with no end date in sight. Imagine being kept from your family and friends with absolutely no idea of when you will see them again.

Imagine this, quite often because of a crime that was petty in comparison to the sentence served already.

This is the consequence of an Imprisonment for Public Protection sentence (IPP)

What is an IPP sentence?

The IPP sentence was introduced within the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and started to be used in April 2005. It was introduced as a way to protect the public, with the idea of punishing those who’s offences were serious, but didn’t merit a life sentence. Those sentenced would be given a minimum tariff to serve, after which they could apply to the parole board for release. The parole board will only release an offender when they are satisfied that they no longer pose a threat to the public. If they decide release is suitable, then the offender will be on license for at least 10 years, if no release is granted then the offender will need to wait at least a year before applying to the board again.

Do IPP sentences still exist?

The IPP sentence was abolished in December 2012, however this decision was not retrospective, and those serving an IPP sentence had to continue. As of the start of 2020, there were still 2,134 prisoners serving, which was a decrease of 14% from the previous year. 9/10 of these prisoners are passed their original tariff expiry date.

Why did IPP sentences get abolished?

They were intended to protect the public from serious offenders, but unfortunately they were overused more than planned. At one point, over 7% of the entire UK prison population consisted of those serving an IPP sentence. Some offenders who committed lower level crimes were given these sentences, with a tariff of less than 2 years. It meant that sentencing of criminals became very inconsistent throughout the UK, with offenders committing similar crimes, but with some getting given a sentence which may far outweigh the crime, and others being given a much shorter, fixed term.

The knock-on effect of mental health across the board gave IPP sentences a bad name from very early on. Victims and family members found it difficult to understand, as no set release date was given, and the offenders were not given a fair chance of reform in many cases, meaning that the endless imprisonment had a dramatic effect on their mental wellbeing, making passing parole seem even more difficult alongside the stress and ill effects of feeling somewhat ‘lost’ within the system.

What has been put in place since?

Since IPP sentences have been abolished they have been replaced with determinate and extended sentences.

A determinate sentence is when a prisoner is given an end date, and a tariff length of imprisonment which reflects the level of crime committed. An extended sentence can be given, if a judge is satisfied that certain conditions are met, for example, that the offender has committed a specified offence, and that they do not require a life sentence, but also the offender is subject to a ‘significant risk’ test. This test is to ensure the possibility of the offender causing serious harm through reoffending.

Where can I get support?

If you have further questions, or would like some advice and support regarding IPP sentences then please ensure that you reach out to one of the many charities there to support and help. The Prison Reform Trust, PACT, and Clinks are some of many. There is also access to our Support Community Facebook group, where you can ask to speak with other people who are going through a similar situation.

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