Howard League responds to government announcement on IPP sentences

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded after the government tabled an amendment that will make some people serving sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) eligible to have their licence period terminated sooner.

People released from prison while serving the IPP sentence currently have to wait a minimum of 10 years before they can have their licence reviewed by the Parole Board.

The changes, included in an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, will mean that people will be referred for review three years after their first release. If a licence is not terminated at the three-year mark, it will end automatically after a further two years if the person is not recalled to prison in that time.

The changes will apply retrospectively, meaning that about 1,800 people should see their licences end when the legislation comes into force. People who have been recalled to prison or taken into secure hospitals will not be eligible.

IPP sentences were abolished 11 years ago, but almost 3,000 people who were given them remain in prison today. Almost half have never been released; the remainder have been released on licence but later recalled to custody.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Thousands of families have waited a long time for a government to do something to end the ongoing ordeal of IPP sentences. Today’s announcement will come as a relief to some people who are living in the community but still have the threat of recall to prison hanging over them.

“But the IPP scandal is a long way from being resolved. The changes will do little to help 1,200 people in prison who have never been released, and they will deal a further blow to 1,600 people who have been released on licence but since recalled. For them, an end to this shameful saga remains out of sight.

“Our fight goes on. The Howard League will continue to work for and alongside those directly affected by this disastrous sentence, and we will support the growing number of parliamentarians from across all parties who are making the case for further reform.”

In 2021, the Howard League supported an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would have seen licences come to an end after two years. The amendment was resisted by the then Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab.

Action on licence periods was also recommended by MPs on the Justice Committee, who found that IPP sentences were “irredeemably flawed” after holding a year-long inquiry that concluded in September 2022.

The committee’s main recommendation from the inquiry – that everyone subject to an IPP should be resentenced – has not been taken forward by the government.