The Perfect Sentence

Given that I am an indeterminate sentenced prisoner who feels failed by ‘the system’ and kept in prison far longer than necessary it may come to your surprise that I actually support the existence of indeterminate sentences and, in fact, think that there should be far more of them. Here is how such sentences run now, and how I’d like to see them run.

(1) At present prisoners who are found guilty are given either a determinate sentence or an indeterminate one. If they are given a determinate sentence they have a set date upon which their sentence expires and beyond which they cannot be kept in prison. They may get out before this date (such as on parole), but they know they are getting out eventually even if they refuse to engage in any rehabilitation. Meanwhile, indeterminate prisoners (with the exception of those given a whole life term) are given a tariff. Whether they are given a Life sentence or an IPP (as was), the tariff is the minimum time they must serve until they can begin to apply for parole. In my case the tariff was under 3 years, in other cases I’ve known it to be as high as 30 or more. It all depends on the seriousness of the crime and any exacerbating or mitigating factors. What I’d like to see is more use of indeterminate sentences to the point where, no matter what you are locked up for, you will not be released until you have been rehabilitated. That means that all prisoners would need to receive indeterminate sentences.

(2) I’ve written before about the futile efforts of the prison service to both punish prisoners and rehabilitate them at the, same time. The fact is, you can’t do this. It doesn’t work. It is like trying to build a house whilst in process of demolishing one that already stands on the same spot. If you want to punish, to demolish the house, that is fine. But don’t try to rehabilitate and to build a new house at the same time. Rebuilding can only come once the demolition is over. Rehabilitation can only work after the punishment has ended. That’s why I’d like to see the indeterminate sentence being clearly separated into two phases (as it was originally intended to be). The first phase is the tariff and, whether this is 3 years or 30 years, it should be tough. This is the punitive stage where the prisoner is punished. However, once this phase is over the prisoner should progress to the rehabilitative phase where they are eligible for parole and are given access to the relevant work to show that they are worthy of it.

(3) As it stands there is a conflict within the justice system. Prisoners are only given access to work that the prison service is willing to give them, but it is the parole board who determine whether the prisoner is fit for release yet. In many cases (including my own) the prison service have insisted on one form of work over any other whilst the parole board have disagreed and stated that the prisoner must do something else entirely before they can be released. The Parole Board tell you to do A and B, The prison service refuses to let you do A and B, pushing you to do X and Y instead, but the Parole Board still refuse to release you because you haven’t done A and B yet. Meanwhile, you’re the one stuck in the middle of the warring factions. Under the system I’d like to see it would be for the parole board to order (not recommend but order) what rehabilitative work should be offered to the prisoner. It should then be the prison service’s responsibility to ensure that this work is made available. It should not be possible for a prisoner to be lost in the system because these two groups cannot agree.

(4) Prisoners are not released by the parole board until they are deemed to be of a low enough risk of reoffending to justify this. The assessment of risk is made by prison and probation staff who then make recommendations to the Parole Board who make the final decision. It is too easy for prison and probation staff to claim that the prisoner remains high risk simply due to an absence of evidence one way or the other. The burden of proof is almost always put upon the prisoner to prove that they have addressed this risk and they are reliant upon opportunities given by the prison service to do this. When the prison service fails to give a prisoner those opportunities it is the prisoner who suffers because they can do nothing to prove that they are ready for release. I’d like to see a system where the burden of proof is reversed. Since the power to give or to withhold those opportunities rests with the prison service, and the prison service has far more resources than any one prisoner, it should be for prison and probation staff to prove their assessment of risk with evidence. An absence of information should not be enough of a reason to keep someone in prison. The presumption must be that the prisoner has addressed their risk unless there is something that shows this is not the case. That way, if the prison service fails to provide the rehabilitative work that was ordered by the parole board the prisoner will be released because this is no fault of theirs, but if a prisoner refuses to undertake that work despite being offered the chance to do it, they will remain in prison.

These things may only be my own opinion, but I am convinced that, if they were taken up, opportunities for prisoners to rehabilitate themselves would be more forthcoming and more often accepted by the prisoner, that rehabilitation would be more successful, rates of release on parole would increase, the prison population would go down, and (due to the increased success of rehabilitative efforts) rates of crime and reoffending would decrease rapidly. Under this system both prisons and the public in general would be far safer.

4 thoughts on “The Perfect Sentence

  1. I cannot agree on the entirety of your opinion as to me the thought of a sentence with no end date of some description is nothing less than torture. At the moment Elizabeth Truss seems reluctant to do anything to deal with this barbaric sentence. I totally agree with you however on the burden of proof. It should be reversed as you suggest. This will give hope to thousands and needs to be done urgently. Thankyou for your blog, as always they are very enlightening.

    • I think you are right that sentences with no end date feel barbaric in our current system but I think that is mainly because our current system is broken in so many other ways. If we could reach a point where every prisoner felt assured that they are guaranteed access to rehabilitation and that they would definitely be released as soon as they had demonstrated that rehabilitation, then I don’t think it would feel so bad not to have an end date. I can only speak for myself as someone who is serving an indeterminate sentence of course, but I know I wouldn’t mind not knowing when as long as I was sure it would be no longer than absolutely necessary.

  2. The prison system have been failing for decades consequently IPP sentence was bond to be open to abuse.

    Even though IPP prisoners finished their courses some twice over there risk was not lowed Therefore there was no light at the end of the tunnel coupled with the fact the philologist followed no criteria.
    Howard League’s legal team successfully applied to the High review, arguing that that a inmate removal from association, and the lack of suitable educational provision, was cruel, inhuman and degrading. Figures demonstrate the courses do not work or lower risk how can you measure a risk.

    “For instance if I cross the road can one prove I will get run over?”

    If rehabilitation courses where available for all they were not suitable for all those with neurological disorders /learning disability or mental health. Continued (1)

    What is proven is 23 hours in a cell with no appropriate education / adequate accommodations or courses, excises and sun does cause mental health problems. I would not put a dog in a cage for 23 hours with no end date and expect it to be sane.
    A sentence which is open to abuse from other such as parole who makes a profit on the longer they keep an IPP Prisoner . Recalling those for non-offences and those groups with hidden disability/ leaning differences people who cannot cope with daily tasks remembering appointments being a snap shot.

    It has been long proven that those with learning differences serve more time than anyone else in fact double the time than those without disability. often unable to assert themselves through lack inadequate accommodations to support them with task such as their paper work solicitor and put them at a disadvantage therefore unlikely to do well when up for parole.

    Ongoing and never ending is Multi agency’s which you always have to I question their effectiveness or their partnership with working with others individual agencies. Information is not clearly been passed appropriately or shared appropriately and this leads to delays, delays in action. Poor cross referencing information and failing to indemnify a prisoner at risk though concerns were raised. Missing paper work poor or redirecting referrals due to poor paper work being a snap shot, the these type of sentence will be open to abuse because there is always going to be new errors with different agency . Re-offending is largely caused by a lack of post release support.

    We have Human rights in place to make life fair and equal how is it equal for those ipp prisoners over five years with relatively minor crimes than those of others to be given an no end date and those with learning differences do double the time with or without an IPP sentence.
    16 IPP Prisoners died as a result of this never ending sentence NO one listened or heard there cry’s .MPs and Minatory of justice now should end the chat and correct the wrong and end the 99 year tariff, for all.
    though one may have a tariff of 5 years …for a serious crime does not justify a life sentence, a longer sentence perhaps but not more than a murders for minor offence in comparison ?
    Every one that comes out of prison is a risk a risk of reoffending not just one group. Ipp prisoners are no more a risk than any other prisoner coming out of prisoners each day.

    All prisoners are a risk of reoffending for what they might do! But IPP prisoners have served their time parole should be constructive rather than punitive; guiding, not catching.

    (1) Discretionary release “but” if they feel the offender is still not willing to abide by the by the conditions or unwilling or unable or unready to change there must be an alternative system in place for offenders to return to the community’s with support and supervision for the best interest of the victim and community that they have guidance upon release., Perhaps a specific stipulation on order to prevent their relapse and re offending.
    it is right to keep those with disability’s incarcerated because of what they might do or because of their disability such as ADHD Asperger’s, leaning differences or behaviour as a result of a disability.

    Often parole assessment goes beyond conduct
    It’s an action plan which often includes the family housing, job opportunities, and a support network. So it makes me wonder why numbers of families were refused attending the parole hearings to enable them to demonstrate their support. How wonder often the independent monitoring board attended hearings.
    Parole boards lack of sufficient independence and they lack resources that constituted, in effectively managing its case load and in report delaying with inmates details. The lack of details the problems caused by lack of compliance with timetabling and the need for jurisdiction with the power to supervise cases and manage their progression effectively has been long standing. Huge caseloads and the temptation to save money compromising procedural standards for example, the intensive case management process ICM limits the right to oral hearings and leads to some decisions being taken by single members of the parole board on paper I stress the that procedural fairness is not only an obligation at common law under the European convention on human rights ( echr) it did not promote good decision making by ensuring that evidence used to release or refuse a release was properly tested .
    The cost of holding hearings alongside saving money by recouping the costs they failed in preventing reoffending unnecessary long incarcerations. Further evidence through proposals on recall and delays in release and re-release. The use of OASys on low offenders. The focus on risk upon risk relate to the importance of proportionality in sentencing?

    (1) Does it mean that sentencing and offending management now discriminate against certain socio economic and demographic groups? Who are ill-served by risk assessment methods or considered particularly dangerous through factors beyond their control? Can risk be accurately assessed and if so, how should this be done? Both the government and the criminal justice system as a whole should respond to the questions?

    A system unduly managing risk in a wide variety of cases became financially underfunded and both procedurally and substantively unfair. The government risk focused rather than deserts approach to sentencing the government failed to anticipate the number of these sentences that would be imposed, despite broad statutory criteria and the cries of the family’s, they failed to provide sufficient courses programmes to enable such offenders to demonstrate their rehabilitation and achieve release
    5 ECHR( right to liberty and security. The lawful detention of a person after conviction .Everyone who is deprived of liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by the court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful 6 echr right to a fair trial. Resulting in litigation and reform.

    We know the government wanted to address risk from violent and sexual offences which is both understandable and laudable However , in my view, it is wrong is principle for indeterminate sentences which in effect is a life sentence was not justify a life sentence and where the maximum term served could be out of all proportion to the index of the offence placing undue pressure on the parole authority effectively to determine the length of sentence in a large number of cases.

    In relation to determinate sentences, the role of conditional release has now ended for newly sentenced prisoners as a result of the criminal justice and immigration act. All such prisoners will be release automatically however a structure of custodial sentences remains flawed.
    The IPP sentences, with dangerousness assessed by the sentencing court, should be abolished. Where a sexual or violent offender is sentenced for an offence that is serious but not deserving of a life sentence .A more appropriate sentence would be a determinate sentence with conditional release manged or an extended licence period S we invite the government and others to give further consideration to the options.

    In all events, the parole board should focus upon worse cases and hope doing so, its caseload will eventually be reduced. Simple sentences for other offenders, with automatic release, will obviate the need for a tribunal to determine release date and its associated costs in these cases where is the case management, to reduce deferrals.

    MPs must work with us because they continue to fail their constituents and a result families and prisoners go unheard.

    Liz Truss
    Those who have finished their sentence have suffered enough because system did not work resulting in numbers serving double their time even though they had done the courses.
    Give back – end the continued suffering,
    End the 99 Tariff.

    • Thanks for that information Katherine. Most of what you say is correct of course, but this focuses on the IPP sentence which I think we can agree has been an absolute disaster at great cost to thousands of people all round the country. What I was trying to say in my post is that the fact that IPPs are a disaster is not a reason to abandon all types of indeterminate sentences altogether but rather it is reason to overhaul the entire system and to get it right at last. In fact, I would actually go further and say that giving up on indeterminate sentences of all types altogether is actually destructive. The only reason the government finally agreed to stop handing out IPP sentences was because, if they hadn’t, the situation would have got worse and worse until it reached a point where they’d have to overhaul the entire system in the way I’m suggesting, just to stop it from kicking off with prison riots a weekly occurrence. The question therefore arises, are we content to cheer at the abolition of IPPs and forget about the fact that there are thousands of lifers who are also subject to indeterminate sentences and remain in a system which is, to all intents and purposes, broken, or are we going to demand wider change and actually address the issues that made IPP sentences so intolerable for those prisoners who had them? As a lifer myself I would hope that you are not all going to forget that I face the same problems you describe in your comment.

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