Indeterminate Sentences - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:07 pm on 29 April 2024.

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Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 3:07, 29 April 2024

To ask His Majesty’s Government how many (1) women, and (2) persons who were under 18 years of age when their index offence was committed, are serving an indeterminate sentence for public protection and have never been released on licence.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, as of December 2023, there were nine women serving an IPP sentence and 33 prisoners serving a detention for public protection sentence, who are in custody having never been released on licence. The IPP action plan aims to promote sentence progression for all those serving the IPP sentence. Provisions in the Victims and Prisoners Bill will give more offenders the opportunity to have their sentences terminated, so that they can move on with their lives.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on having achieved some reduction in these numbers over the last two years, although noble Lords will, in some cases, still be surprised that there are women serving IPP sentences who have never been released and that there are people who committed their crime aged under 18 who have never been released; the majority of the latter are now 10 years or more over their tariff. In that light, does my noble and learned friend agree that while it is perfectly reasonable to have a Parole Board public protection test for prisoners serving a definitive sentence, since they will be released into the community at the end of their sentence, it is less appropriate for IPP prisoners, as the alternative for them is remaining in custody indefinitely, potentially for decades more? Should not this test, advanced in the current Bill, be modified for IPP prisoners?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the IPP action plan, which the Government have promulgated, remains the best vehicle to deliver support to all IPP and DPP prisoners, so that they can progress towards a safe release—safe for them and for the community into which they will be released. The IPP action plan provides continued focus on supporting those serving IPP and DPP sentences in custody and in the community, ensuring that each has an effective sentence plan tailored to their individual needs by supporting those in the community on licence to comply with their conditions.

Photo of Lord Woodley Lord Woodley Labour

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, in his crusade for justice for these prisoners. The Government rejected resentencing of DPPs and IPPs, as the Minister knows, arguing that the Parole Board has consistently not backed these prisoners so therefore they should just lie in prison and rot there. However, the former head of the Parole Board, Martin Jones, now the Chief Inspector of Probation, is one of many experts calling for resentencing to end the nightmare injustice of imprisonment without end. What is the Government’s real reason for rejecting resentencing? Is it because they do not want to be seen as soft on crime ahead of a general election?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, it is not the case that the Government are acting out of that reason—the position on resentencing has been rejected twice by the Government at different times. Instead, we take the view that as there is a public protection aspect to these sentences, it is apt that they continue to be treated in the current way. I reject the noble Lord’s proposition that people are being left to “rot” in prison. The action plan has achieved the extension of the scope of the psychology services so that they can continue to support some of the more complex IPP cases. The safety team in HMPPS has developed and issued a safety toolkit concentrating on the needs of IPP prisoners and HMPPS has also commissioned new IPP delivery plans to roll out in May 2024. The Government are not inactive in this area.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, these 33 DPPs referred to by the Minister are 33 people who have never had a shot at adult life in the community. They are all well past their original tariff, as the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, said, and passing one’s tariff date is a time when mental health often drops off a cliff edge. Does the Minister agree that we should give them the same kind of holistic and multidisciplinary wraparound care that Section 117 prisoners get to help them get through the gate and out into supported life in the community?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, provision of just such multidisciplinary approaches is precisely what the Government are accomplishing in their approach to these people. I fully accept the noble Baroness’s considered point that persons who have not experienced freedom will suffer extreme and acute mental health difficulties from time to time. With that in mind, I can advise the House that the Government remain committed to improving outcomes for individuals with mental health needs, including such IPP prisoners. The IPP safety team has devised a dedicated safety briefing. A special IPP toolkit has been issued so that persons dealing with such prisoners across the level of the prison system can concentrate on their needs. There is also a national partnership agreement on health and social care in England, published in 2023, which sets out a shared priority work plan to deliver safe, decent and effective care, improving health outcomes for people in prison and on probation. To conclude, I congratulate the noble Baroness, my noble friend and all noble Lords on their concern for this often-overlooked group of prisoners.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop

My Lords, recently in Lincoln prison I met a man who has been continuously in the prison system for the last 48 years—since I sat my A-levels. He is not mentally ill in any obvious way. He told me that he keeps sane by keeping God between himself and the other prisoners—that was the gist of what he said anyway—but that he is so socialised by being in prison for so long that he has almost forgotten what he was in there for. He asked that if he were to be released could there be specialist units in nursing homes where there would be the proper care for someone who has not known freedom in his entire adult life?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate’s example will strike a chord with noble Lords across the House and engage their sympathy. The work the Government are carrying out to establish psychology services is, as I said, multidisciplinary in nature and involves not only expert psychologists but dedicated probation officers, specialists in their field and those who have looked at the problems of suicide in prison. We are working in particular with a group called UNGRIPP and a Mrs Donna Mooney, who has done great work in this field. We are engaged with the Howard League for Penal Reform. There is also a commitment to working with the Samaritans to provide further assistance for persons coming out of the prison estate.

Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench

My Lords, do the Government not feel ashamed of the obvious injustice of the continuing 16,000 former IPP residents in prison who are still on IPP sentences? This is a gross injustice that lingers in people’s lives, who are in a place of permanent panic and unable to get on with their day-to-day existence because they are looking over their shoulder, wondering whether they be tapped for a recall. In the past 10 years I have visited 73 prisons up and down the UK and met hundreds of IPP people inside prison, and I have not encountered a single one who was not worthy of release tomorrow. The system is so badly broken. It needs a kind of approach that we had for the Post Office that clears out the residue of this long, unjust sentence, which was described as a great evil by two former Home Secretaries.

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, the number of IPP prisoners are down to 1,312 as of 30 June 2023, from a maximum of 6,000. I hear the noble Lord’s views on the worthiness for release of those whom he has met, but it is not something which can be consigned to an individual; it is a matter for consideration by persons holding a wide range of specialisms and experience. I do not share the view that the Government should be ashamed of their response. The latest review by the inspectorate found that His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service is taking “proportionate” and “necessary” decisions to recall offenders on an IPP licence for public protection.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, to be clear, the Labour Party does not support the resentencing of IPP prisoners. Our view is that it would put the resentencing judges in an impossible situation when there have been multiple recent reviews of those IPP prisoners. Nevertheless, the Government constantly tell us that there is a review of the sentencing plans for those IPP prisoners. Can the Minister tell us how many of the IPP prisoners have had their sentencing plans reviewed?

Photo of Lord Stewart of Dirleton Lord Stewart of Dirleton The Advocate-General for Scotland

My Lords, I cannot provide the noble Lord with that information directly, but I will be able to do so in a very short space of time. I gratefully acknowledge the statement he gave on behalf of his party relating to the approach that has been proposed of resentencing such offenders. His views are at one with those of His Majesty’s Government.