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Families Demand Action as Labour Urged to Resolve Injustice of Indefinite IPP Sentences



'Action is overdue': Relatives assert Labour must address the 'unfairness' of open-ended jail terms

Clara White, whose brother Thomas has been imprisoned for 12 years for a mobile phone theft, talked to Sky News while advocates penned a letter to the newly appointed justice secretary, calling for intervention.

Political journalist @Journoamrogers

Thursday, July 11, 2024, 3:

Sir Keir Starmer has received urgent calls to take immediate action on the IPP prisoner issue, which has resulted in numerous inmates being stuck in prison for an indefinite period.

Clara White, whose brother Thomas White has been incarcerated for almost 12 years over a mobile phone theft, stated that the Labour Party now holds the duty to address the issue of imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences, which have been criticized as a type of "psychological torture."

Ms. White, a longstanding advocate for the resentencing of IPP prisoners, emphasized to Sky News that the incoming Labour administration needs to promptly tackle the issue that close to 3,000 individuals are still incarcerated under this sentencing, even though it was eliminated over ten years ago.

Her involvement is prompted by the actions of various activists and legal experts specializing in human rights, who have penned a letter to Shabana Mahmood, the newly appointed justice secretary, urging her to swiftly address the IPP controversy.

In a letter obtained by Sky News, activists voiced "grave concerns regarding the persistent controversy surrounding IPP sentences" and the "unbearable situation that various governments have created for prison and probation staff tasked with overseeing those still under these sentences, whether incarcerated or in the community."

"They emphasized that swiftly addressing the IPP scandal is the appropriate action."

The advocates also contended that reevaluating sentences and possibly freeing the remaining IPP detainees might offer a "realistic, politically acceptable, solution to alleviate the critical overcrowding issues plaguing the prison system."

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Understanding IPP Sentences

IPP, or Imprisonment for Public Protection, was a sentencing option available to judges starting in 2005. It was designed for severe offenders of violent and sexual crimes who were considered a high risk to public safety, yet whose offenses did not qualify for a life sentence.

Despite the government's declared intention of safeguarding the public, worries soon emerged that IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentences were being used too extensively, ensnaring not only serious offenders but also those guilty of lesser crimes, who frequently found themselves incarcerated for much longer than their

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The coalition government discontinued IPPs in 2012, however, this decision did not apply to past cases. As a result, 2,852 inmates are still incarcerated, among them 1,227 who have yet to be released for the first time.

The current administration is facing escalating calls to address the IPP issue, initially implemented by ex-Labour home secretary Lord Blunkett, who has expressed significant remorse over how the sentence has been applied.

Earlier in the year, Ms. White reached out to the previous home secretary seeking assistance for her brother, who had received a minimum two-year imprisonment under an IPP for the theft of a mobile phone.

The decision was made four months before the penalties were eliminated. Now aged 40, twelve years on, Mr. White remains uncertain whether he will ever be released from incarceration.

The family of Mr. White has consistently highlighted the severe effects his sentencing has had on his psychological well-being, noting that his mental health has declined significantly, leading to a diagnosis of schizophrenia and persistent hallucinations.

Ms. White expressed concerns in March that her brother might commit suicide while incarcerated.

In a Wednesday interview with Sky News, she described how Thomas, in a state she referred to as "desperation," had recently ignited a fire in his own cell.

"She mentioned that given the manner in which Labour has assumed office, they must prioritize addressing the most critical problems first."

"This is a pressing matter that requires immediate attention; we cannot afford any further delays."

"Their patience has run out."

Could this be the answer to overcrowding?

In their communication, the activists also contend that a reevaluation of sentences for the existing IPP detainees, as suggested by the Commons Justice Select Committee, might greatly alleviate the issue of overcrowding in prisons.

Sky News has disclosed that there are ongoing discussions within the government about reducing the threshold for automatic early release of prisoners from halfway through their sentence to potentially 40% or 43%, a move that could lead to the early discharge of thousands more inmates.

The suggested measures, not applicable to those convicted of sex offenses, violence, or terrorism, aim to address the issue of overcrowding in England and Wales' prisons, which reportedly have only 700 available spots left for male inmates.

In their correspondence with Ms. Mahmood, the activists and legal professionals are calling on the government to establish a panel of specialists tasked with overseeing a resentencing initiative to be completed within a year and a half.

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The text also requests that the Ministry of Justice release its inaugural annual review on IPP, initially scheduled for issuance by March 2024.

Former Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, who was not re-elected, unveiled several changes to the IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) scheme. Among these changes, he highlighted that individuals released on licence will now be eligible to request the termination of their licence in less than the previous requirement of 10 years.

Learn more: Spending exceeds £1 billion on indefinite IPP sentences since 2012, UN expert accuses ministers of using deceptive assertions to defend ongoing incarceration.

In their correspondence, the activists call on the newly elected officials to implement the measures proposed in the Victims and Prisoners Act.

"The issue of IPP sentences stems from legislative actions and thus can only be rectified by legislative changes, as noted in the letter."

"We call on the newly formed government to fulfill its promise, stated while in opposition, to swiftly address this unfairness.

"Should this unfairness go unaddressed, the authorities might face legal action for their lack of proper response."

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice stated: "The prison system is facing a critical situation, and we acknowledge its profound effects on the entire justice system.

"The decision to eliminate IPP sentences was justified. The Lord Chancellor pledges to collaborate with various groups and campaigners to identify and implement the correct measures to assist individuals still under IPP sentences. A response to this letter will be provided in due course."

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