To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they propose to exercise the power under section 128 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to alter the test to be applied by the Parole Board to the release of those Imprisonment for Public Protection prisoners who have served years beyond their tariff terms.
My Lords, the test used by the Parole Board in assessing the suitability for release of prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment for public protection is working. These prisoners are being released in increasing numbers. In 2016 there were 576 first-time releases of IPP prisoners—the highest number since the sentence became available. This trend is expected to continue. We have no present intention to alter the test applied by the Parole Board.
That is all very well, but there are more than 3,000 such prisoners left. After the shocking recent press reports about the sex offender treatment programmes tending to increase rather than reduce the likelihood of sexual reoffending, does the Minister really continue to think it fair and appropriate for IPP prisoners long past their tariff date for release having to prove a negative? They have to prove that they will not reoffend on release, which the chairman of the Parole Board describes as “incredibly difficult”.
I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord for his observations with regard to this matter, but I remind the House that we are talking about prisoners who are at a high risk of committing further violent or sexual offences if released. The independent Parole Board, when not directing release, is concluding that the risk to the public is too great for these people to be safely managed in the community. Our duty of care is not only to the IPP prisoners but to the members of the public who may become the next victims of their violent behaviour. I acknowledge that recent reports on the sex offender treatment programmes have indicated that between 2000 and 2012 reconviction rates were higher for sexual offending in respect of those who had undertaken the programmes. By the time that those results were published, Her Majesty’s prison and probation services had already taken the decision to cease delivery of those core programmes and have accelerated the transition to what are called the Horizon and Kaizen programmes.
My Lords, I have already acknowledged in this House and elsewhere the role I played in the introduction of the original programme and sentence and how we got part of it wrong. I wonder whether the Minister accepts, as the head of the Parole Board does, that the new 10-year licensing period is leading to recall of prisoners on a very large scale, to the point where it is clogging up the role of the Parole Board in releasing prisoners and ensuring that they are returned to incarceration in circumstances which in normal sentencing programmes would never happen.
With respect to the observations made, I first make this point: the licence period is actually for life, but the licensee can apply to have it limited to 10 years. That is the present position. More pertinently, let me draw this to the attention of the House: over 30% of those released under licence as IPP prisoners are in breach of their licence conditions within 12 months of release. They do not wait 10 years; they do not wait five years. Where there is a problem with regard to release under licence, it emerges very swiftly after release.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that in the case of IPP prisoners who are way beyond their tariff and for whom training courses for rehabilitation may not be available, it is little surprise that many of them have their attitude to society aggravated by that experience? Can he give an assurance that every IPP prisoner now has access to the courses necessary for those purposes?
IPP prisoners have access to the appropriate programmes and matters have improved considerably over the past few years so far as that is concerned, but it is not always necessary that an IPP prisoner should undergo a specific programme to satisfy the Parole Board as to their suitability for release. There are other means by which this can be achieved.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, acknowledged, both the Ministers who brought in this legislation and the coalition Government who abolished IPPs saw them as a mistake. Section 128 was put into the Bill particularly to deal with the present situation that the Minister faces. It is not true that he is dealing with this problem in a way that will get rid of it quickly. It will be with us well into the next decade. It is also not true, as he implies frequently, that what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, I and others are doing is throwing open the gates for dangerous prisoners. There would still be a very hard, close process before these men were released but it would get rid of an obvious and glaring injustice. The Government should make use of Section 128 for the reason it was put there.
We are of course conscious of the ability to move under Section 128. That remains under review. However, under the present regime we have seen an acceleration in the number of releases. Be that as it may, let us keep in mind the simple fact that where people achieve the present test, we have a breach of licence conditions rate of about 30%. We are dealing with very difficult and in each case dangerous individuals who must be managed in the community for its safety as a whole.
I understand that at present the rate of release on first oral hearings of IPP prisoners is about 38%. That is a material increase in the release rate of three or four years ago, when it was about 28%.