Growing frustration among prisoners still serving the discredited Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence is damaging staff morale and potentially threatening security, a survey of prison governors indicates today (17 June 2013).

The findings, compiled by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Governors’ Association, suggest prisons have insufficient resources to deliver IPP sentences effectively, often leading to resentment between inmates.

Ninety-two per cent of governors surveyed said that IPPs decreased job satisfaction. They said the sentences undermined staff credibility, caused inmates to be treated unfairly, and often meant officers were unable to help prisoners progress.

Almost half of respondents reported that institutions holding IPP prisoners saw higher levels of indiscipline. One explained that some prisoners became anxious and resentful because they could see “no chance of release as they struggled to access appropriate courses”.

A large majority of respondents – 86 per cent – reported that IPP prisoners experienced high levels of anxiety. Several noted that IPP prisoners were at increased risk of self-harm.

The survey results are revealed in a Howard League research briefing paper, The never-ending story: Indeterminate sentencing and the prison regime, which calls on the government to bring in a system to enable post-tariff IPP prisoners to be safely managed into the community.

The paper recommends that all short-tariff IPP prisoners should be provided with a clear strategy to manage their safe release into the community before the end of 2013. This could be achieved by converting all IPP sentences with short minimum tariffs into determinate sentences.

The government scrapped IPPs in 2012, but the abolition was not made retrospectively. There are currently more than 5,800 people in prison serving an IPP, including more than 3,500 ‘post-tariff’ prisoners who have passed the date at which they became eligible for parole.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights found that the detention of post-tariff IPP prisoners was ‘arbitrary and unlawful’. The court heard that the government had failed to give prisoners access to rehabilitative courses they were required to take before they could be released.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The government has recognised that this sentence is flawed but it hasn’t solved the problem of dealing with the thousands of IPP prisoners who remain stranded in the system.

“Indeed, the situation is likely to get even worse as prison budgets shrink and access to courses becomes more limited. Ministers cannot clap their hands over their ears and hope that this problem disappears.

“The courts have been quite clear that the IPP sentence is unjust, and here senior professionals on the front line are saying that it is damaging to their morale and the safety of prisons.”

Changes to the law in 2008 tightened the eligibility criteria for an IPP, giving judges greater discretion as to whether to hand down the sentence.

The survey found that short-tariff prisoners sentenced before 2008 were at greatest risk of self-harm. Governors said these inmates had particular difficulties with anxiety as they saw others who had been convicted of similar crimes after 2008 serve their sentence and move on while they remained inside.

Eoin McLennan-Murray, President of the Prison Governors’ Association, said: “It is absolutely scandalous that low-tariff IPP prisoners sentenced before 2008 remain incarcerated far beyond their tariff date while offenders who were sentenced after 2008 for like-for-like offences have now served their sentences and been released.

“This blatant injustice needs to be addressed and prison governors are calling on the minister to deal with this toxic legacy quickly.

“Governors and their staff should not be expected to try and defend the indefensible; to do so will undermine the relationships relied on to deliver safe, stable prison regimes.”

Three in four respondents said that the extra demands which IPP prisoners placed on prison resources meant that non-IPP prisoners’ had restricted access to rehabilitative courses. A similar number reported that waiting lists for courses were very long in the prison they worked in.

Many governors felt staff were frustrated and demoralised with their work because of IPPs. One in four linked the difficulties staff faced when working with IPP prisoners to increased security threats and indiscipline.

Almost all respondents – 97 per cent – agreed that changes needed to be made to the current system to enable post-tariff IPP prisoners to be managed and released into the community safely.

Numbers of IPP prisoners sentenced and released each year

Numbers of IPP prisoners sentenced and released each year – click to enlarge

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