Our submission to the parliamentary inquiry on the IPP sentence: End indeterminacy. Restore justice.
On the 9th anniversary of the IPP sentence’s abolition, we have published our submission to the Justice Select Committee IPP inquiry. This is made on behalf of people affected by the IPP sentence who contacted us. This post summarises the evidence they gave, and you can read our full submission here:
31 people submitted evidence to us – a mix of people serving the sentence and their families. Many more spoke to us informally. We ask everyone to take the time to read their words, their views, their painful & traumatic experiences, and what they would like to change.
Many people were too scared to submit evidence in case it had repercussions for their sentence, or they felt there was no point. This in itself is a damning indictment of the IPP sentence: it controls through fear and it undermines faith in the justice system.
3,125 people live under the IPP sentence in the community. 1,722 people have never been released from prison. 96% are post-tariff. A further 1,322 are reimprisoned indefinitely on recall, often without further convictions. 276 people are in secure hospitals.
235 people serving the IPP sentence have died in prison. 70 of those took their own lives. An unknown number have died in the community, including through suicide.
On this day, we commemorate the people who have died while serving the IPP sentence. And we uplift the voices of people still living and affected by the sentence every day, including families.
In their evidence submitted to us, people used deathlike metaphors with tragic frequency. ‘Buried alive’, ‘served a death warrant’, ‘death is the only escape’, ‘grieving for someone still alive’. For this reason, we argue that the IPP has come to resemble a living-death sentence.
People were clear that the worst thing about the sentence is indeterminacy. Its devastating effect is the elephant in the room. The behaviour of people serving an IPP sentence is explained away by everything except the sentence they are serving. This needs to change.
People told us three things about indeterminacy. It is unjust, it is harmful, and it is not rehabilitative. The sentence has failed to deliver the balance of punishment, rehabilitation, and public protection that it was intended for.
People told us that the IPP sentence departed from common-sense notions of justice & punishment. People unfamiliar with it struggle to comprehend that it exists. Nobody disagreed that they (or their loved one) deserved a prison sentence. They wanted to seek justice, not evade it.
By breaking the social contract of punishment, the IPP sentence has produced a generation with no faith in the justice system. People serving the IPP sentence, their families and their children, live in a state of deep fear, mistrust and disenfranchisement.
People told us that the IPP sentence had harmed them emotionally, mentally, physically, financially & socially. People serving the sentence consistently describe a psychologically harmful triad of alienation, perpetual anxiety and hopelessness. Their families experience the same.
The harm caused by the IPP sentence does not end at the prison gate. It continues under the perpetual threat of recall. Under such circumstances, the deathlike metaphors used to describe the IPP sentence are unsurprising.
People told us that the IPP sentence made rehabilitation harder. They were frightened to be honest about problems, experienced extra strain on resettlement and family relationships, and it encouraged coping mechanisms (self-harm, drug use) that excluded them from receiving help.
The IPP sentence does not assist rehabilitation, it undermines it. Fear, mistrust, extra trouble securing resources, strained relationships, a push towards self-harm and increased exclusion all distort the effect of any rehabilitative help on offer.
The person who spoke to us who would be depicted as the most ‘successful’ by the sentence’s logics (released the soonest after his tariff expiry and the only one never to be recalled) described himself as “a broken man”. This is not success, but survival at great cost.
A public protection-based sentence without fair punishment or rehabilitation is nothing more than warehousing & surveillance. Moreover, families of people serving the IPP sentence are members of the public. The sentence has not protected them, but harmed them.
People were clear about their favoured solution to the IPP sentence: end indeterminacy. Any solution that falls short of this will not address the problems of the sentence. It is the single most damaging source of injustice, harm, and failed rehabilitation.
When presented with several solutions, people strongly favoured resentencing. We comment on which variants may address the problems people described. We urge the Committee to consider such an exercise, to restore a balance of punishment, rehabilitation & public protection.
People were also clear that post-release support needs to be fit for purpose. People serving the IPP sentence cannot simply be abandoned. They and their families need, and deserve, substantial help in overcoming the damaging impact of the sentence on their lives.
UNGRIPP was, at times, overwhelmed by the suffering reported to us. We would like to thank everyone who submitted evidence for their courage & dignity in telling their stories. This is our effort to raise their voices in a united message. End indeterminacy: restore justice.
In the coming weeks, both the Justice Select Committee, and peers debating the IPP-related amendments to the PCS Bill need to know what people think. Please use our evidence. Quote it, tweet it, tag people who need to know. Especially let your MPs know about it.
We especially need help from professionals & members of the public. We need to show that the sentence lacks legitimacy across agencies, communities, & anyone with a stake in the justice system. Whatever your relationship to IPP is, please unite with us to change it.