IPP and Life

In one of my previous posts [A Man Without A Past] I wrote that, had I been sentenced just three years later, I probably would have received one of the controversial IPP sentences but, because they didn’t yet exist in 2002, I was instead given ‘Detention for Life’ with a minimal time to serve of just under three years. Well, IPP sentences have been reviewed both in Britain and by Europe, and they have effectively been scrapped. They will no longer be given out. But those that have them haven’t just been released, they continue to have to fight for parole, just like other lifers. Just like myself in fact.

Part of the reason for the scrapping of the IPP sentence was because a huge number of people campaigned against them, lobbying their MPs, marching on Parliament, submitting petitions, and generally making as much noise as possible. Many of these people continue to campaign to have IPP sentences overturned retrospectively too, aiming for those who remain in prison to be freed. But although it may be true that IPP sentences were handed out far more often than originally intended, and IPP prisoners have found it extremely hard to get parole anywhere close to their end of tariff date, how is this any different from other types of discretionary indeterminate sentences?

There are two main types of life sentence. The first is mandatory (where the Court has no choice but to give a life sentence – used in cases of murder) and discretionary (given by Courts where the judge decides that the only way to be sure that the prisoner will not re-offend upon release is to ensure that they cannot be released until the parole board is satisfied that they no longer pose a risk – used where the crime is not murder but is very serious, or where the crime is less serious but the prisoner is classed as a prolific offender, or where the prisoner is not a prolific offender but the prisoner’s state of mind and motivation for offending are unclear). IPP sentences were used as a replacement for these discretionary life sentences so that the same aims could be achieved without labelling too many people with a life sentence. But, now that IPP has been scrapped, the Courts have simply reverted back to their use of discretionary life sentences for many cases. The hurdles faced by prisoners serving discretionary life sentences are no different from those faced by prisoners serving IPP sentences. Both have indeterminate sentences. Both have to receive the approval of the parole board before they can be released. Both have trouble doing that. Both have trouble even getting in front of the parole board for an oral hearing. Both are subject to long periods on probation after release. In fact, the only real differences are that IPP prisoners tend to wait a bit less time between parole hearings and they also have a chance to come off probation after ten years, where discretionary life sentenced prisoners do not.

So why then has only IPP been scrapped? Why has the same not been done for discretionary life sentences? Why is a so-called ‘lesser’ sentence given in 2005 wrong, whilst a ‘more serious’ sentence which has exactly the same effects and which may have been given out for exactly the same crime just a year earlier is fine? And why is everyone prepared to campaign against one, whilst the other goes entirely unmentioned? I must be missing something because I just don’t get it.

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