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Here, we explain what the IPP sentence is, and why it went wrong.

  • Between 2005 and 2013, 8,711 people in England & Wales were given a particular type of life sentence: the IPP.

  • Before 2005, life sentences were reserved for murder, and the most serious cases of manslaughter, GBH, robbery, and rape.

  • The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection, known as the IPP sentence.

  • The IPP was a life sentence that could be given for any of 153 crimes, including affray and criminal damage. Many of these crimes had never previously been given a life sentence.

  • In 2012, the sentence was abolished by the Government. But it was not abolished retrospectively. On 31st March 2022, 2,946 people were still in prison, serving an IPP sentence.

  • Apart from a handful of successful appeals, all people released on an  IPP continue to serve their sentence in the community, for life.

  • 304 (3.5%) of IPP sentences were given to people aged under 18.


  • Like other life sentences, the IPP is divided into two parts. The judge decides how many years a person must spend in prison as punishment for the crime they committed (known as a ‘tariff’). Once that time is served, they may apply for release. They must then serve a license for the rest of their life. The license includes restrictions on where they live, who they see, and what they do.

  • Tariffs were set based on how many years imprisonment a person would receive before the IPP sentence was introduced. Because it covered so many crimes – many not serious – tariffs were often very short. The shortest was 28 days. The tariff was then followed by continued confinement in the interests of public protection.

  • There is no guarantee that a person serving an IPP will ever be released from prison after they have served their tariff. The Parole Board must decide that they are no longer dangerous, and are very unlikely to commit another offence.

  • Almost nobody serving an IPP has been released at their tariff date. Today, 1,498 people serving an IPP are still in prison past their tariff date. 83% of those have served 5 or more years over their tariff.

  • Even once released, if a person with an IPP break the terms of their license, they can be returned to prison indefinitely, and may never be released again.

  • The fundamental difference between an IPP sentence and a sentence of a set number of years in prison, is that (after serving their tariff) the IPP sentence keeps people in prison based on what they might do in future, rather than what they have done in the past. It relies on professionals predicting the future accurately.


The sentence was supposed to deal with the most dangerous people in society. It was supposed to give them long enough in prison to access help to change their behaviour, and stop committing crime.

The IPP sentence has not achieved this goal.

Below, scroll through our 10 reasons why it is not working. 


When the IPP sentence was planned, the Government predicted that around 900 people would receive it. It was actually given to more than 8,000 people altogether, including over 1,500 in the first two years. Prisons were not prepared to receive this many people with no release date.

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