Raab fails to deliver justice on IPP – a cowardly, and ineffectual act.
The decision comes just days after statistics show everything is moving in the wrong direction.
Today, the Government’s response to the Justice Select Committee inquiry into IPP has abjectly failed to deliver justice. The Ministry of Justice has rejected the recommendation, backed by a broad coalition of families, experts and organisations, to engage in a resentencing exercise. This would have seen people sentenced to IPP given a fair punishment available under current law, instead of being locked up indefinitely on an abolished sentence.
We are deeply saddened by this disappointing outcome. Dominic Raab’s utterly tone-deaf response to the clear, consistent and thoughtful inquiry is a failure on all counts. It is brutally disrespectful treatment of people directly affected by IPP who gave testimony with courage and dignity, a breathtakingly ignorant dismissal of professional expertise, and it also undermines public protection, which Raab claims to be committed to. The most dangerous people are people with nothing to lose, and hope for the future is a crucial ingredient in reducing reoffending. Today Dominic Raab has risked destroying that hope – a cowardly act in service of the media, not the public.
The response contains a number of other changes, which we will produce a summary of as soon as possible. In the meantime we want to do two things: we want to reassure everybody affected by IPP, that the JSC report has a longer shelf life than the average Justice Secretary – and so do we. The report is not going away, we are not going away, and we are already pursuing other opportunities for legislative change. The JSC report was one step on a long road, during which it is clear that the upswell of support for overturning IPP has moved the needle on change. Resentencing is no longer a fringe option: it is a serious and sensible policy that the Government has failed to deliver. We will also be holding the Government accountable for the changes it has said it will deliver, and watching closely to ensure that they do so.
While we compile our summary, we want to highlight the latest concerning figures quietly released by the Ministry of Justice shortly before the JSC response. There are some deeply worrying trends. Despite greatly increased scrutiny of IPP in the last year, and claims from the MoJ that their action plan is effective, almost all indicators on IPP moved in the wrong direction in 2022. This is yet further evidence that IPP cannot simply be managed away. It is fundamentally unfit for the purpose. The Justice Select Committee also reached this conclusion, and recommended resentencing as the only fit solution. It is hard to see how the Government has possibly justified any solution other than resentencing, given the damning picture that has emerged.
For the first time since 2012 (the year the IPP sentence was abolished), the IPP population in prison has increased. This reverses a steady year-on-year downward trend. The absolute change is small as yet (the population increased from 2,890 to 2,892 in the last quarter of 2022), but the change in direction is still deeply worrying, and is likely to be a sign of things to come if the Government continues to insist that its plan is working. There is a real risk that we may see history repeat itself, and watch the IPP population rise as it did between its inception and its abolition. As well as a change in direction, the 2022 statistics show that:
The increase is largely driven by the increasing number of people on recall, which is up 10% on last year.
The number of first time releases is down 15% compared to last year, and the number of re-releases from recall is down 17% compared to last year.
The average time spent on recall has increased by two months compared to last year.
The number of people still in prison 10 or more years beyond their tariff continues to increase – up 2% from last year, and now comprising nearly half (46%) of all unreleased IPPs.
The continued climb in the number of people serving time on recall should be judged in light of the fact that the number of actual recalls from the community has decreased quite substantially – down 23% on last year.
We are also rapidly heading towards a situation where still being in prison more than ten years past their tariff expiry date is the new normal for people serving IPP. We have frequently pressed the Ministry of Justice to be more transparent about this figure, as in actual fact many people are now as many as 15 years beyond their tariff – some are 17 years beyond it, having been imprisoned since 2005. This gross injustice is set to only go in one direction without a resentencing exercise.
This situation simply cannot continue, nor can the MoJ’s insistence that releases will inevitably decline, as it is only the more “complex” people left in prison. This argument fails on two counts. Firstly, there is nothing complex about injustice. Hundreds of experts, including psychologists and psychiatrists, have written to the Justice Secretary outlining the negative psychological impact of the IPP sentence. People serving IPP are alienated, anxious, despairing and mistrustful – completely normal reactions to being imprisoned indefinitely on an abolished sentence for over a decade longer than the time deemed proportionate to your crime. A fair resentencing exercise, substantial reform of the recall system and a proper package of support to help people recover from the effects of IPP would go a long way to resolving people’s “complexity”. Secondly, people with genuine needs related to mental health, physical health and neurodiversity do find themselves trapped in the system for longer – not because they are complex but because the bureaucracy that surrounds IPP is bewilderingly complex to navigate, and progress is simply not a level playing field accessible to all.
In addition to the increase in people in prison on recall against a backdrop of a falling recall rate, the changing trends in the documented reasons for recall need further scrutiny. Recalls of people facing further charges have halved compared to last year, and other documented reasons for recall have also decreased substantially. However, unspecified reasons for recall that are classified as ‘Other’ have been steadily increasing in the last few years. In 2020 there were 45 recalls for ‘Other’ unspecified reasons, 57 such recalls in 2021, and 75 such recalls in the first three quarters of 2022 – a yearly increase of nearly a third, even before recalls from the last quarter are counted. The Ministry of Justice must be more transparent about this set of recalls. What reasons are counted as ‘Other’? What patterns are evident? Are appropriate legal safeguards and procedures adhered to in such cases? There is a need for accountability and scrutiny here, especially since it is already well documented that safeguards around recall are poor.
Self-inflicted deaths and self-harm
The most distressing fact established by the 2022 statistical releases is that there were nine self-inflicted deaths by people serving IPP in 2022 – the highest ever in a single year since IPP was introduced. This is utterly shameful and unacceptable. It also further undermines the Ministry of Justice’s assertions that the system works and keeps people safe. Several research studies have shown that people serving IPP frequently have suicidal ideations linked to the distress caused by their sentence, and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman have warned about the role of IPP in people taking their own lives. The fact that self-inflicted deaths have reached this peak before the Government issued its response to the JSC inquiry is deeply concerning. People are already losing hope in ever greater numbers. By robbing people of the slim hopes they cling on to, we fear that more people will die. We are therefore issuing a clear and public warning to the Government: people serving IPP, and their families, are at increased risk of taking their own lives if you remove their hope of correcting the injustice they suffer.
One thing we do not know is how many incidents of self-harm were committed by people serving IPP in 2022. This data was not released in the latest briefing: something we find unusual and misjudged, given the increased scrutiny on IPP currently, and the need for the Government to be accountable for keeping people serving IPP safe. We urge the Ministry of Justice to release this data before the next routine statistical release, and provide reassurance that the level of self-harm has not increased.
A sentence not fit for purpose
Almost everything about IPP is moving in the wrong direction. The prison population is increasing, recalls are climbing despite a decrease in the recall rate, more people are dying, people are getting further over tariff, releases are down, and people are languishing for longer in prison on recall. The IPP sentence has never functioned as intended, and despite the efforts of many individuals within the Ministry of Justice who we know try to do the right thing, it is never going to overcome its troubles as an unjust, abolished, undeliverable sentence which has caused immense pain, death, and suffering. It is a failed experiment with no place in our justice system – and it must go, or more pain and death will follow.
We need your help now – get involved by telling your MP that Raab is wrong
We will be updating our template letters very shortly, based on the Government response. We have never needed so many people to write to their MP and say “I don’t support this.” In the meantime, please adapt our existing template letters to tell your MP that you would like them to challenge the Government’s decision: