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Offender Management and Treatment - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:10 pm on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 2:10 pm, 3rd October 2019

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to whom this House and indeed this nation owes a great debt. I want to focus on one group of prisoners only: those serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public, IPPs, under a scheme introduced with effect from 2005 and abolished by LASPO seven years later, in 2012. That, of course, is now seven years ago, yet there remain detained 2,315 people—I am using three-month-old statistics—and there are another 1,114 recalled IPP prisoners. Let me share one or two shocking figures. All but 175 of all those have passed their tariff dates: they have served longer than their due punishment justified. Some 55% have served over six years beyond the tariff, 35% have served more than eight years beyond tariff, and 13%, more than 270 prisoners, have served more than 10 years beyond what was required as due punishment. Surely, I am not alone in finding those figures disheartening and, indeed, quite appalling.

Ken Clarke described the plight of these post-LASPO IPPs as,

“a stain on the justice system”.

Michael Gove, in his 2016 Longford lecture, said:

“In terms of pure justice and fairness”,

we should be releasing IPPs,

“who have served far longer than the gravity of the offence requires”.

He pointed out that many have served beyond the maximum terms stipulated for the offence, except for the IPP scheme. Even the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, regretted introducing the scheme. The United Kingdom has more indeterminate sentence prisoners than the other 46 Council of Europe countries combined. When the IPP scheme was first brought in, it nearly doubled the number of indeterminate sentence prisoners here.

Indeterminate sentence prisoners face real problems, particularly those with short tariffs. These sentences induce a sort of Kafkaesque sense of despair, hopelessness and uncertainty, not just for prisoners but for their families. Think of being the mother or wife of a prisoner serving such a sentence. Hardly surprisingly, the number of IPPs who self-harm and, in a significant number of cases, commit suicide is significantly higher than among any other group of prisoners. More than half of IPPs self-harm. It is really dreadful. It is a form of preventive detention, a sort of internment.

Of course, the infamous case of Warboys seriously set back the overall cause of these IPPs—but he had an eight-year tariff and was ordered to be released, initially, within two years of that. I am concerned with the other end of the IPP spectrum: those, often with comparatively short tariffs, who are still there for lengths of time, eight years or more, beyond what punishment required.

LASPO provided, in terms, for a ministerial power, if necessary, to change the test to be applied by the Parole Board in authorising a prisoner’s release. At the moment they have to prove to the Parole Board that they can safely be released—a very difficult test to satisfy. Surely, I suggest, it is time for that burden to be reversed and for those seeking to justify continuing detention to prove, on the basis of probability, that, if released, a prisoner would go on to commit serious offences.

I have made these points time and again over recent years; there is nothing original in what I have just said. But what would be original would be for the Government, at long last, not only to recognise the manifest injustice of the plight of this group of prisoners but to summon up the political will to do something about it. I urge the Justice Secretary finally to reverse the test, to end the recall system which brings these people back all too easily, time and again, and to convert any remaining sentences to fixed terms. Do whatever is necessary: remedies are plainly available. In the idiom of today, just get it done.