Ministers criticised after rejecting review of ‘inadequate’ open-ended prison sentences

The Government’s decision not to review open-ended prison sentences being served by nearly 3,000 dangerous offenders has been described as a “missed opportunity” by the chairman of the Commons Justice Committee.

Sir Bob Neill (pictured) said the committee was “not only disappointed but genuinely surprised” by the rejection of some of its recommendations for an overhaul of the outdated sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection.

IPP sentences were introduced in 2005 to prevent serious offenders who did not warrant a life sentence being released when they still posed a danger to the public.

Despite being scrapped in 2012, nearly 3,000 criminals remain behind bars after being given such a sentence.

Criminals serving an IPP can only be released once they are no longer deemed a risk to the public and if their rehabilitation is successful.

In a report published in September last year, the committee said in some cases inmates have been in prison for a decade beyond the tariff of their original sentence, which could have been as low as two years or under.

The report described the sentences as “irredeemably flawed” and recommended that all prisoners serving an IPP sentence should have their term reviewed and replaced, after concluding the system for managing such inmates was “inadequate”.

The Government’s response to the report, published on Thursday, accepted or partially accepted many of the committee’s recommendations, including a review of the Ministry of Justice and the Prison and Probation Service IPP action plan and improved mental health support for IPP prisoners.

However, it rejected the call for an immediate review of all IPP sentences.

In a foreword to the response, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The Government’s long-held view is that this would give rise to an unacceptable risk to public protection and that the IPP action plan, suitably updated, remains the best option by which these offenders can progress towards safe release.

“As such, the Government has no plans to conduct a resentencing exercise.”

Following the Government’s decision to reject those recommendations, Sir Bob, Conservative MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, said: “This is a missed opportunity to right a wrong that has left nearly 3,000 people behind.

“The committee recognised that addressing this issue would not be easy – that’s why we recommended that a small, time-limited committee of experts be set up to advise on the resentencing exercise.

“We are not only disappointed with this Government response but genuinely surprised.

“There is now a growing consensus that a resentencing exercise is the only way to comprehensively address the injustice of IPP sentences and that this can be done without prejudicing public protection.

“Our report said this nettle needed to be grasped by all three branches of the State – Government, Parliament and the judiciary.

“But the Government has not listened. The nettle has not been grasped and, as a result, these people will remain held in an unsustainable limbo.”

The Government’s response concluded that the risks to the public from serving IPP prisoners “continue to exist”.

“Although the Government recognises the frustrations and concerns surrounding the IPP sentence, our view is that the IPP action plan remains the best way in which these offenders can progress towards safe release.

“The action plan is regularly refreshed and updated, and it will again be reviewed in light of the recommendations from the Justice Select Committee to ensure it offers the best possible support to IPP offenders, whether in custody or in the community.”

The response set out the work that is ongoing to improve mental health support, in particular for IPP prisoners who are transferred back into prison following a period of treatment in a secure hospital.

However, the Government also rejected the committee’s recommendation that the licence period for those sentenced to IPP – the amount of time they remain under supervision and subject to prison recall after their release – should be reduced from 10 years to five.

Former Labour home secretary Lord David Blunkett said: “Whilst it is a small concession of the Government to refresh the ‘action plan’ for the probation service, it is inexplicable that they have rejected the recommendation to reduce the licence period from 10 to five years.

“Giving people hope and turning the current threat into support has to be the best way of working to avoid any breach or return to criminal behaviour, not least for the wellbeing of the families as well as the individuals.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “The Government should be thoroughly ashamed of this wholly inadequate response to a serious cross-party attempt to right a terrible historic wrong.

“On resentencing, it had an opportunity to begin a process that could have addressed the many practical complexities that the committee acknowledged.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Protecting the public is our number one priority and resentencing all IPP offenders risks undermining this by releasing dangerous prisoners into our communities.

“Our current approach has already reduced the number of unreleased IPP prisoners by three-quarters since 2012 and new laws mean their sentences are reviewed 10 years after release.

“We are also now changing the rules so IPP offenders with five years’ good behaviour in the community will have their continued supervision reviewed automatically.”

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