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Lingering injustice

Lingering injustice


New Ministry of Justice data exposes the ongoing 21-year miscarriage of justice, keeping thousands in prison under abolished IPP sentences

Startling revelations from the Ministry of Justice have unveiled a prolonged miscarriage of justice in the UK, persisting for over two decades. The latest Offender Management Statistics Quarterly discloses that 2,852 individuals, victims of the abolished 'Imprisonment for Public Protection' (IPP) sentences, continue to languish in prison, marking it as one of the most egregious errors in the UK's criminal justice system.

Introduced in 2003, IPP aimed to protect the public from dangerous offenders. However, its misuse led to nearly ten times the expected number of sentences, with many minor offenders receiving indefinite terms. Although the sentence was abolished in 2012, it wasn't made retrospective, trapping thousands in prison. The newly revealed data exposes the dire consequences of this systemic failure.

The plight of the 2,852 individuals with IPP sentences is grim. Shockingly, 1,227 of them have never been released, and 699 have surpassed a decade beyond their original sentence. This prolonged imprisonment defies the principles of justice and disproportionately impacts those convicted of low-level offenses, with some serving excessive sentences for crimes as minor as stealing a mobile phone.

The psychological toll on victims and their families is evident. IPP sentences are labelled a "death sentence" due to the high incidence of suicides, with at least 88 recorded and potentially more unreported cases. Families are broken, and lives are irreparably damaged as individuals struggle with mental health issues, exacerbated by the uncertainty of release.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who implemented IPP in 2003, has admitted to the mistake, calling it "unjust" and "immoral." International figures, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Edwards, have condemned the IPP policy as "inhuman" and "degrading." Despite acknowledgment of the error, successive governments, including the current Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, have failed to rectify the situation.

The financial cost of this ongoing crisis is staggering, with estimates projecting a burden exceeding £1 billion to the UK taxpayer by 2028. The refusal to review IPP sentences, despite ample evidence of their failure, showcases a wilful blindness by the government, reminiscent of the Post Office Scandal.

Human rights campaigners, including Henry Rossi of The Institute of Now, and London-based lawyer Hamid Sabi, emphasize the urgent need for reform. They highlight the moral duty of the government to correct this systematic error, release IPP prisoners with appropriate support, and prevent further damage to the lives of thousands.

The Untold Stories of IPP Victims:

One example that epitomizes the heart-wrenching consequences of IPP is the case of Thomas White. Sentenced in 2012, just months before the abolition of IPP, for the theft of a mobile phone, Thomas has spent 12 years behind bars without release. His sister, Clara, describes the devastating impact on their family, witnessing Thomas's mental health deterioration under the strain of an open-ended sentence with no clear route to release.

In 12 years, Thomas has only met his son, Kayden, once. Much of his time has been spent in solitary confinement, leading to the development of psychosis, borderline personality disorder, and ADHD. Clara laments the government's failure to fulfil its duty of care, stating, "The saddest thing for IPP families on the outside is that we trusted the Government – they had a duty of care. They had a duty of care to look after my brother and they didn't; they failed him."

The tragic toll extends beyond personal suffering. At least 88 individuals with IPP sentences have committed suicide in prison, with potentially more unreported cases due to the difficulty of tracking suicides during community release. Additionally, there were 1,600 recorded instances of self-harm by IPP prisoners in the past 12 months alone, highlighting the severe mental health challenges these individuals face.

Government Inaction and International Scrutiny:

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, acknowledged the government's failure to address the IPP crisis, stating in a House of Lords session in November 2021, "This situation cannot go on… I got it wrong. The Government now has the chance to get it right." Despite such admissions, successive governments have ignored calls for reform.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Alice Edwards, condemned the UK's handling of the IPP crisis as "inhuman" and "degrading" in a public statement in August 2023. Prominent figures across the political spectrum, including Rory Stewart and Sir John Major, have decried IPP as fundamentally inhuman, yet the government remains unmoved.

UK Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, has rejected recommendations for reviewing IPP sentences, displaying a continuation of a pattern seen in ten previous justice ministers. The refusal to address this systematic failure threatens to expose the UK to mass public shaming on the world stage if urgent action is not taken.

Financial Implications and Call for Urgent Reform:

The financial cost of maintaining IPP prisoners beyond their minimum terms is staggering. The projected cost to the UK taxpayer is estimated to exceed £1 billion by 2028, with each year adding to the burden. This unnecessary financial strain, coupled with the immense human suffering, underscores the urgent need for reform.

Henry Rossi, a human rights campaigner, and founder of The Institute of Now, calls IPP a "systematic error" and a form of "state violence" incompatible with modern society. Urging the government to re-evaluate this draconian sentence, Rossi emphasizes the need for urgent action to release post-tariff IPP prisoners with the appropriate support.

London-based human rights lawyer Hamid Sabi, known for his work on international tribunals, criticizes the political inertia that has stifled IPP reform. He warns of the UK facing mass public shaming on the world stage if the government continues to demonstrate "wilful blindness" and disproportionate risk aversion in addressing the issue.

The IPP crisis remains a stain on the UK's criminal justice system, causing immeasurable suffering to victims and their families. The government's continued inaction raises questions about its commitment to justice, human rights, and international standards. The UK stands at a critical juncture, where corrective measures must be taken promptly to rectify this grave miscarriage of justice and prevent further damage to the lives of thousands.