Blackburn MP Kate Hollern writes her fortnightly column for the Lancashire Telegraph

Last month, the United Nations called for an urgent government review of sentences of imprisonment for public protection (IPP). In light of this, during last Tuesday’s Justice Questions, I asked the Minister if he could explain why the number of people with an IPP sentence recalled to prison without committing any further offence has soared in recent years.

Introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, IPP sentences were intended to detain offenders who posed a significant risk of causing serious harm to the public, but whose crimes did not merit a life sentence. Offenders sentenced to an IPP would be set a minimum term which must be spent in prison. Once they had completed their tariff, they could appeal to the Parole Board for release. IPP sentences were abolished in 2012 - but not retrospectively - and almost 3,000 prisoners in England and Wales currently remain incarcerated under them.

The implementation of IPP sentences was deeply flawed. IPPs became available for more than 150 offences, many of which had never previously carried life imprisonment. It was originally predicted that around 900 people would receive an IPP sentence. In fact, more than 8,000 people have since been issued with them, 1,500 of which occurred in the first two years.

Major staff shortages and budget cuts in the criminal justice system led to long delays in Parole Board hearings, impacted the provision of behaviour offending programmes for IPP prisoners, and added pressure on an already overcrowded prison system. The recent events at Wandsworth Prison have highlighted just how overstretched and under resourced the prison service is.

There is significant evidence of the link between serving an IPP sentence and deteriorating mental health. A report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published in October 2022 identified, at each stage of the sentence, an enduring pattern of discouragement and distress, culminating in despair, self-harm and suicide for a significant number.

The United Group for Reform of IPP (UNGRIPP), which campaigns on behalf of those affected by the IPP in England and Wales, recently hosted an exhibition in Parliament which showcased harrowing stories of prisoners and their families who have been subjected to these indeterminate sentences.

I was serving on the Justice Select Committee when it published its report on IPP sentences in September 2022. The report found that "a large number of the IPP prisoner population are serving what amounts to a life sentence for what are widely regarded as lower-level offences such as robbery, theft offences, criminal damage, arson and public order offences." It found that IPPs fell into disrepute very quickly for a variety of reasons.

It described the sentences as “irredeemably flawed” and made several recommendations to government to address the situation, the most significant being that they bring forward “legislation to enable a resentencing exercise in relation to all IPP sentenced individuals (except for those who have successfully had their licence terminated).”

However, despite the Committee’s recommendations, and the current Justice Secretary having condemned IPPs as a “stain on our justice system,” the government response has been inadequate to rectify the injustice of these sentences, nor address public protection.

The government rejected the recommendations to resentence, instead committing to a number of procedural fixes, including a new IPP action plan, better mental health and psychological services, and an HMI Probation review of IPP recalls.

A decade after Parliament abolished IPPs, these sentences have been long forgotten about in the justice system, despite many prisoners being significantly over their original tariff with no prospect of being released.

Everyone agrees that prisons serve both to protect the public from danger and to ensure that those found guilty are punished appropriately. The existence of IPP sentences clearly does not fulfil either of these aims. It is encouraging that there is significant cross-party consensus on the need to address this injustice, but we need actions, not just words from the government.