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Open letter calls on Kier Starmer for urgent IPP reform to end one of worst miscarriages of justice in UK prisons

Open letter calls on Kier Starmer for urgent IPP reform to end one of worst miscarriages of justice in UK prisons


70-strong coalition demands new government implements urgent Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence reforms within first 100 days to tackle spiralling mental health crisis and resolve injustice

A ccoalition of 70 criminal justice experts, civil society organisations, leading activists, and campaigners has published an open letter to Keir Starmer’s new Labour Government and the Justice Secretary, Shabana Mahmood, calling on them to deliver crucial reforms to Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, a national scandal which has claimed 121 lives since 2005.

Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences were a form of ‘indefinite’ detention introduced by New Labour in 2005 to appear tough on crime. They were abolished in 2012 due to widespread concern over the sentence’s implementation and psychological impact on inmates. Many were given IPP sentences for minor offences, including Ronnie Sinclair, who served 15 years in prison for smashing a flowerpot and ripping up her friend’s betting slips. Thomas White, another IPP prisoner, remains in prison 12 years after stealing and returning a mobile phone in 2012 .

The ‘abolition’ of IPP in 2012 was not made retrospective, leaving thousands still subject to their sentences. According to the latest prison data, 2,796 people are in prison serving IPPs, 705 of whom are ten or more years beyond their ‘minimum tariff’ – the period of time served in custody after which IPPs' release on licence in the community is subject to Parole Board approval.

The open letter, published today and hand-delivered to the Ministry of Justice, sets out demands for the Labour Government to make good on a commitment made in Opposition in May 2024 – to “work at pace to make progress on IPPs” – within its first 100 days in power.

It calls on the new Government to:

  1. Bring all the IPP-related provisions in the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 into force.
  2. Publish the first annual report on IPP, which was due by the end of March 2024.
  3. Make a ministerial statement to Parliament, setting out the new Government’s plans and timetable to address all the outstanding challenges affecting those under an IPP sentence.
  4. Commit to setting up an expert committee, in line with the recommendation of the former Justice Select Committee, to advise on the practicalities of a resentencing exercise.

Signatories to the letter include Amnesty International, The National Association of Probation Officers, The Howard League for Penal Reform, Prison Reform Trust, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, UNGRIPP, Inquest, Global Rights Compliance, and other leaders in the justice and human rights sectors.

The letter emphasises its chief demand – to bring all the IPP-related provisions in the Victims & Prisoners Act 2024 into force, including reducing the automatic termination period for IPPs on licence in the community from ten years to three years. This would immediately enable 1,800 people already five years post-release to have their licences terminated. Although the Victims and Prisoners Act 2024 is law, its measures won’t be implemented until the Government decides a commencement date, leaving nearly 2,000 IPPs on licence in the community in limbo.

IPPs on licence are subject to strict conditions under 99-year licences and can be recalled for minor infractions of their licence conditions, such as missing a probation meeting for a medical emergency, and even for mere allegations of criminal activity. IPPs can spend years in prison awaiting release, even if cleared of allegations with no further action by the police.

The fear of being recalled has driven at least 31 people to suicide in the community, with the number feared much higher due to data only being available from 2019. 90 more have taken their own lives in prison serving an IPP sentence since 2005. In 2024 alone, three separate coroners have published Prevention of Future Death reports, recognising the impact of an IPP sentence on a suicide victim’s death.

Another demand made by the letter is for the new government to publish the first IPP annual report, now four months overdue, which will review actions taken by the Ministry of Justice in the past year to resolve the IPP crisis. It also calls for clarity on how the Government plans to deal with the legacy of issues facing IPPs, including that many prisoners are housed at prisons where they are unable to access the courses that they must complete to secure their release on licence.

The letter’s final demand is for the Government to follow the 2022 Justice Select Committee’s recommendation and establish an expert committee to advise on the practicalities of a resentencing exercise for IPPs.

Despite consensus among experts that a resentencing exercise is the only practicable way of resolving the IPP crisis for good, including the formal backing of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Alice Edwards, successive Governments have repeatedly rejected the idea. Campaigners highlight that a resentencing exercise for nearly 3,000 IPPs incarcerated could reduce overcrowding in UK prisons by a third, reducing the need for current measures to reduce capacity pressures, which include releasing some prisoners up to 70 days early. They are urging peers to enter the Private Members Bill ballot and push for IPP resentencing.

Publication of the letter follows a warning issued by the Prison Governors’ Association on 25 June 2024 that UK prisons and jails could run out of space within days, putting the public at significant risk, with police officers unable to detain people because there will be nowhere to detain them.

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