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Monday, July 12, 2010

Sentences with no time limit are ‘Kafkaesque’

Sentences with no time limit are ‘Kafkaesque’

Prisoners can’t discover when they have any hope of being released

By Frances Gibb

If there is one target for the sentencing review set up by Kenneth Clarke, the Lord Chancellor, it should be the “ill-drafted” indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP), according to a report published today. It condemns the measure as “one of the least carefully planned and implemented pieces of legislation in the history of British sentencing” — and says that it has left thousands of prisoners in a bureaucratic limbo, Frances Gibb writes.

The IPP has a minimum term or tariff to be served in custody. Release after that date that can be authorised only by the Parole Board. By the end of last year, more than 6,000 offenders had received the sentence and courts continue to pass about 75 a month. But the worst figure is that 2,500 of these are being held beyond their set jail term, awaiting a decision on release.

The joint research report comes from the Prison Reform Trust and the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at King’s College London, with the support of the Nuffield Foundation.

It draws its findings from discussions with a broad base, including Crown Court judges, parole board members, prison governors and forensic psychologists; and its conclusions were drawn up after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, the chairman of the Parole Board and the President of the Prison Governors’ Association.

Before the sentence was introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the only other indeterminate sentence was the life sentence, used obviously for the gravest offences. The IPP is available for “dangerous” offenders convicted of one of a range of 96 violent or sexual offences listed under the Act.

But large numbers of prisoners come to the end of their tariff and languish inside: only 4 per cent are freed immediately. The reasons include lengthy delays for parole hearings; no access to the offending behaviour programmes they are required to undertake before release; and the difficulty, the report says, in demonstrating that the offender now poses a reduced risk.

So a sentence aimed at managing and reducing the risks posed by serious offenders is not translated into practice, the report says, and prisoners find themselves “confronted with Kafka-esque obstacles to discovering when they have any prospect of release”.

Changes were made in 2008, specifying that the IPP could not be used for sentences of less than two years. Judges also no longer had to impose the IPP when offenders met the criteria. But usage by the courts did not decline to the extent hoped.

As Crispin Blunt, the prisons minister, put it last month: “We have 6,000 IPP prisoners, well over 2,500 of whom have exceed their tariff point. Many cannot get on courses because our prisons are wholly overcrowded and unable to address offending behaviour. That is not a defensible position.”

n.b. This article comes to you from behind Murdoch's paywall at The Times.

1 comment:

Tony, Manchester said...

IPP's are disgusting. I have a very close friend who is serving an IPP sentance and is now nearly 1 year over his tariff of 19 months.

His 1st parole application (not for relese but a move from Cat C to Cat D)was a week ago and was refused because he hadn't completed a course which neither the prison, himself nor his solicitor had been told he had to complete.

All his other courses he completed before the end of his tariff and his behaviour and co-operation have been excellent.

Fortunately he has a good brief who is going to seek judicial review, but that process can be so slow it won't make much difference anyway.