cell doorPeople serving an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) have one of the highest rates of self-harm in the prison system, according to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT).

Figures show that for every 1,000 people serving an IPP there were 550 incidents of self-harm. This compares with 324 incidents for people serving a determinate sentence, and is more than twice the rate for those serving life sentences. 

There are more than 4,100 people are in prison serving an IPP, unsure when or if they will be released. This is despite the abolition of the IPP in 2012, following near universal criticism of the sentence from judges, Parole Board members, HM Prisons Inspectorate, the Prison Governors’ Association, staff, prisoners and their families.

The effect of Parole Board delays, limited resources, poor procedures for managing risk and a lack of available places on offending behaviour programmes means that many IPP prisoners are held for years beyond their original tariff, no longer in prison for what they have done, but for what they might do. 

Four out of every 5 people serving an IPP are still behind bars despite having served their minimum term. Currently, 719 people sentenced to an IPP sentence with an original tariff of less than two years are still in custody beyond their tariff. This group would not have been eligible to receive an IPP if they had been convicted of an offence following reforms to the sentence introduced in 2009: many would have been likely to have received a relatively short determinate sentence.

Their ongoing incarceration is impacting on their mental health and that of their families. Outgoing director of the PRT, Juliet Lyon, together with shadow prisons minister Jo Stevens MP and Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, met the families of some of those still held in prison earlier this month, to hear their concerns first hand. The families expressed their deeply felt frustration, verging on despair. They said that they live in fear of the phone call that tells them that their loved one has lost hope and made an attempt on their own life. 

A Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year reaffirmed that it was the responsibility of the government and Parliament to find a solution for those stuck in prison beyond their tariff. Justice secretary Michael Gove said, in a recent speech to prison governors, that “there are a significant number of IPP prisoners who are still in jail after having served their full tariff who need to be given hope that they can contribute positively to society in the future.” Despite this, the government has ruled out the possibility of introducing new legislation, referring the issue to the Parole Board.

PRT estimates that the cost so far of incarceration beyond tariff is at least £500 million. Every year the cost of the time served over and above what a determinate sentence would have required is increasing by more than £125 million. Nearly 900 IPP prisoners have yet to reach tariff expiry date. 

Incoming director of the PRT, Peter Dawson 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.”