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Ministers using ‘misleading’ claims to justify indefinite detention, says UN torture expert

The UN’s leading torture expert has accused the government of using “misleading” arguments to reject re-sentencing offenders who are still serving a controversial prison sentence.

Speaking exclusively to Sky News, Alice Jill Edwards, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, argued there was “no justification” for the continued indefinite detention of those still serving sentences under the “discredited” and “abandoned” imprisonment for public protection (IPP) regime.

Implemented in 2005 under the then Labour government but scrapped in 2012, IPP is a prison sentence with no release date that was intended for serious violent and sexual offenders who posed a significant risk of serious harm to the public but whose crimes did not warrant a life term.

Although the government’s stated aim was public protection, concerns quickly grew that IPP sentences were being applied too broadly and catching more minor offenders – with many serving time in prison much longer than their initial term.

Despite calls from parliament’s own Justice Select Committee – which said the sentence was “irredeemably flawed” and had caused “acute harm” to those serving them – the government has resisted calls to resentence remaining IPP prisoners, citing concerns for public safety.

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What is an IPP sentence?

However, data Sky News has obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows only 83 IPP prisoners who have been released since 2012 have been convicted of a serious further offence (SFO) upon or after their release, including those who may have been released, recalled back to custody and rereleased.

The figure represents 1.7% of the 4,776 IPP prisoners who have been released since the sentence was abolished, although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has said this does not account for those who have been recalled back into custody.

More on Prisons

SFOs are specific violent and sexual offences committed by people who are under probation supervision.

It is understood the government believes resentencing IPP prisoners would compromise public protection because offenders who may have committed serious sexual or violent offences may then be released, and in many cases not with a period of licensed supervision.

However, speaking exclusively to Sky News, Ms Edwards said “perpetual uncertainty is wholly incompatible with the rule of law and is inhuman treatment”.

Read more:
11 years for stealing a mobile phone: Inside the lives of IPP prisoners serving sentences of ‘psychological torture’
Reforms announced to address ‘stain’ of indefinite prison sentences

“It is the responsibility of the UK government to protect public safety, but citing this as the reason not to review IPP sentences is misleading,” she said.

“The UK, like any society with a strong rule of law, has measures to protect the community after prisoners are released. Locking people up and ‘throwing away the key’ is not a legal or moral solution.”

Referencing the reluctance of successive governments to resentence remaining IPP prisoners, Ms Edwards said: “Even a partial resentencing exercise for those still serving sentences for more minor crimes would be marked progress.

“IPP sentences were abandoned more than a decade ago – there can be no justification for the continued indefinite detention of so many individuals often for relatively minor crimes.”

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Inside the lives of IPP prisoners

Ms Edwards also pointed to the high rate of suicide and mental illness among IPP detainees, saying that at least 86 IPP prisoners have taken their own lives since the sentences were introduced in 2005.

The most recent statistics from the MoJ show 2,852 IPP prisoners remain behind bars, including 1,227 who have never been released.

Under the IPP system, those who are released are let out on licence – during which time they can be recalled back to prison at any time if they breach certain conditions.

Of the 2,852 people who remain incarcerated under the IPP system, including those who have been recalled back into custody, 1,210 are behind bars beyond their original tariff – the term used to describe the minimum period they must serve in custody before they can become eligible for parole.

Last month Sky News analysis found that keeping IPPs in prison beyond their minimum term has cost the taxpayer more than £1bn since 2012.

MPs from across the political divide are currently hoping to persuade the government to adopt resentencing by tabling amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords.

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Ex-IPP prisoner’s ‘total loss of hope’

Among the amendments is one submitted by Baroness Fox, which calls on the government to implement the Justice Committee’s recommendation there should be a resentencing exercise of all IPP-sentenced individuals with a member of the judiciary appointed to oversee the exercise.

It has been sponsored by Lord Moylan and Lord Blunkett – the former Labour home secretary who introduced IPPs in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act but feels “deep regret” over their implementation.

A MoJ spokesperson said: “We have reduced the number of unreleased IPP prisoners by three-quarters since we scrapped the sentence in 2012, with a 12% fall in the last year alone where the Parole Board deemed prisoners safe to release.

“We have also taken decisive action to curtail licence periods and continue to help those still in custody to progress towards release including improving access to rehabilitation programmes and mental health support.”

Sky News Source