Casting aside the shadow of the IPP sentence

10 November 2023

Last week saw a rare glimmer of hope for my client, Ryan.*

He was one of the 326 children sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of detention for public protection, the IPP sentence for children. Finally, aged 29, after the expiry of the ten year qualifying period, and following detailed representations to the Parole Board, he received a formal notice that his licence was CANCELLED and all the conditions would cease to have effect.

As a lawyer, receiving these notices is one of the most positive moments. As I said to Ryan, you are now as free as I am. And rightly so.

In his own words:

“When I was released at 18 I felt like I had done well inside prison. It was a new chapter to my life, new beginnings. However, under strict licence conditions, I felt trapped and did lose hope. I felt like my life wasn’t mine and that there was no light at the-end of the tunnel. But I kept my head down and worked hard with employment and managed to get a degree in law. My licence finally got removed prior to me turning 30 years old. I feel like I’ve been on this sentence and licence most of my life. I feel like now I can start to live my life I feel free, and with my accomplishments I can pursue what I need to do with no restrictions, except that even though my licence is cancelled my conviction will never be spent.”

The ability to terminate the licence is the distinguishing feature of the IPP from a life sentence. 

Yet data from the Parole Board and the Ministry of Justice suggests that there are many people who should have been reviewed who haven’t (see my last blog on this). The grant rate is reducing – according to the Parole Board it is now down to 35%.

The vast majority of people are unrepresented. Those who stand a decent chance but still need additional help, like Ryan, are likely to be working, and ineligible for legal aid. 

It is also poignant that Ryan spent his entire adolescence under the shadow of his IPP sentence, despite being a child when he committed his crime. The “qualifying” period before a person sentenced as a child can apply for their licence to be terminated is exactly the same for a person sentenced as an adult. This is out of kilter with the law that applies to children for rehabilitation periods, where the qualifying period usually is half for a child.

The Secretary of State has been clear that the IPP sentence is a stain on our system and plans to do something about it. Let’s hope that this will include not only reducing the qualifying period for all those on IPP licences but also halving the period for those sentenced as children and further amendments to enable convictions to become spent at some point for people whose licences have been terminated so they really can move on.

*Not his real name.

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