top of page



Why is it needed?

  • Too many sentences were given out.

  • Not enough help is available.

  • Prison is not the best place for change.

  • The sentence creates psychologically toxic conditions.

  • We can not predict the future.

  • The sentence is damaging people, and their families.

  • Licenses are not working.

  • There is no evidence that sentences like the IPP are effective.

  • The sentence loses sight of justice.

Several options have been proposed to solve the problem of the IPP sentence.  We describe what they are, and the pros and cons of each.

Convert each IPP sentence to a straight sentence, with a defined release date and license period (or a life sentence if the case merits it).

This option would see every person who was given an IPP resentenced to one of two options: a certain number of years in prison, or to a life sentence, if that is what they would have received when the IPP sentence was not available.

Pro: This would restore justice and proportionality. It would ensure people are punished for what they have done, not what they might do. For most, it would restore a sense of justice, certainty, and hope: three conditions that are vital for behaviour change.

Con:  It would create a strain on the system. It would take a lot of work to resentence ever person given an IPP. Releases for those who have served their ‘deserved’ number of years would need to be carefully planned, to avoid overwhelming the Probation Service.

Give each IPP sentence a ‘sunset clause’.

A ‘sunset clause’ is a maximum amount of time that a person would be allowed to serve before they must be released. Three possible sunset clauses have been suggested:

The maximum amount of time in prison that can be given for that person’s offence.

A fixed number of years beyond a person’s tariff (e.g. 5 years).

A ‘sunset date’ by which all people given an IPP must be released.

Pro: This would restore some proportionality and certainty to most serving an IPP, while still allowing for some continued discretionary release/confinement based on a person’s perceived dangerousness.

Con: It would not restore proportionality to many people serving an IPP who were convicted of offences that can theoretically attract the maximum of a life sentence (e.g. robbery). A sunset date also risks suddenly overwhelming the Probation Service.

Change the criteria for release from prison.

Currently, the Parole Board must apply the ‘risk test’ to all people serving an  IPP who applies for release. The person serving an IPP must prove that they are no longer a risk to society, which can be very difficult to do from prison. A proposed change to this test is that the burden should instead fall on the Parole Board to prove that they are still a risk to society.

pro: This would maintain the indeterminacy of the sentence, and its use for public protection, but would ‘balance the books’ in favour of those given an IPP, as there would need to be very strong evidence that keeping them in prison was justified.

Con: The main drawback to this option is that it would not result in any real change. It is a small tweak that is unlikely to make much tangible difference to Parole Board decisions. It also does not address the root causes of why many people serving an IPP struggle to progress in prison (like the mental health problems caused by the sentence).

Give some who are serving an IPP executive release.

This option would remove the IPP sentence from those thought to have received it most unjustly. This would most likely be those that received a tariff of under two years (because their crimes were less serious), who are still in prison. There are 300 of these people, and two-thirds of them have served ten or more years over their tariff.

Pro: This would be the most immediate solution for those people who most people agree should not have received the IPP sentence, and should no longer be in prison.

Con: There is no guarantee that this group of particularly ill-served people would receive any support to recover and re-integrate. Executive release would remove any responsibility from criminal justice agencies to address this. It would also not resolve the situation of the majority of people given an IPP, who experience similar effects but were given longer tariffs.

Shorten, and reform, the license period.

Currently people serving an IPP can apply to have their license removed after 10 years in the community (although there is no guarantee of this happening). This option would reduce that period (most suggest 5 years). It would also involve other changes, such as requiring the Parole Board to approve recall to prison, and disallowing recall for minor license breaches.

Pro: This would give people serving an IPP a better chance of staying out of prison once they are released. License restrictions can be more damaging than helpful, and restrictions on recall would give added certainty and stability to those serving an IPP and their families.

Con: It may stop the Probation Service preventing further serious crime through use of their recall system. Conversely, it has also been suggested that license reforms would not go far enough in supporting those who were given an IPP with their resettlement.

End the IPP sentence on release from prison.

This option proposes that a person’s IPP sentence should be ended once they are released from prison. Any further offences by that person should be given a fresh sentence.

Pro: This option goes some way to extending an ‘apology’ to those who were given an IPP, by removing a sentence agreed to be unjust and ineffective. It would give them a fresh start, and a chance to resettle without the anxiety of satisfying license conditions, or the possibility of being recalled.

Con: A drawback to this option is that ending the IPP sentence would also end any prospect of support for those who were given an IPP from criminal justice agencies. For some, this might be destabilising rather than helpful.

Abolish the IPP sentence retrospectively.

This option proposes that the IPP sentence should be abolished retrospectively, for all those currently serving it. This would effectively mean releasing all those currently serving an IPP sentence, and removing the license from those serving the sentence in the community.

Pro: This would be most faithful to the abolition of the sentence by the Government. It would acknowledge that the sentence was wrong, unjust, harmful and ineffective. Removing the sentence altogether would remove many of the problems associated with it.

Con:  It risks creating more problems. It does not restore proportionality, and would inevitably release some people who would otherwise be serving life in prison. Releasing so many people at once risks overwhelming support services. Without very careful planning and resourcing, it would create a very real risk that some people might fall back into crime.




Our perspective on the IPP is simple:

The state of the sentence now, undermines its ability to achieve anything meaningful.

A banned sentence cannot rehabilitate, protect or punish.

But it does cause pain, damage, and waste money.


Find out ways that you can get involved and help to make some change.

bottom of page