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Prisoners serving 'discredited' IPP sentences 'self-harming in despair'

Published 23/06/2016

Ken Clarke scrapped the controversial sentences when he was justice secretary
Ken Clarke scrapped the controversial sentences when he was justice secretary

Convicts serving indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPP) are turning to self- harm as they see no end to their detention, a new report has warned.

Figures show that for every 1,000 people serving an IPP there were 550 instances of self- harm - far higher than the rate for prisoners given fixed sentences, which is 324.

The controversial sentences were introduced in 2005 but scrapped seven years later by then justice secretary Ken Clarke who has described them as a "stain" on the justice system.

But more than 4,100 prisoners are still serving the "discredited sentences", which mean they can only be released once a parole board is convinced they are no longer a danger to the public.

The Prison Reform Trust charity, which carried out the research, said a lack of resources, parole board delays and poor management means prisoners are being left languishing in jail with no end in sight.

The charity said four out of five convicts given the sentence have served their minimum terms but are still stuck behind bars.

Peter Dawson, incoming director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "This report shows the growing toll of despair the IPP sentence is having on prisoners and their families, years after its abolition. Urgent action is needed.

"The Government should convert these discredited sentences into an equivalent determinate sentence, with a clear release date, and provide full support to people returning to their communities.

"Only then will the damaging legacy of this unjust sentence finally be confined to the history books."

Mr Dawson said it is time to "take a more radical approach" to dealing with the prisoners.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme: "This is a group of people which is uniquely disadvantaged in the system and those rates of self harm, although self harm is rising across the prison system, they are startlingly different from other groups of prisoners including other people serving life sentences."

He admitted some of the prisoners are people who "pose a risk" but said the criminal justice system should give them suitable but finite sentences.

He added: "This sentence was an aberration. What we do is we sentence people by the nature of the offence, by the seriousness of the offence, the only major exception to that are people who have committed murder.

"For everything else we say you must serve your time in relation to the seriousness of what you did, and when it comes to an end you are on licence and you are supervised and you can be recalled to prison.

"But we don't say we might keep you in prison for the rest of your life because we are not sure."

Indeterminate public protection sentences were introduced to keep dangerous criminals whose crimes were not serious enough to warrant a life sentence off the streets.

But far more were handed out than anticipated, swamping the parole board and leaving convicts "trapped in the system", Mr Dawson said.

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