‘Indefinite sentences trap inmates with mental health needs in jail’

Prisoners with mental health problems who have no automatic right to release are not getting the support they need to leave jail, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said today. 

The charity uncovered a high rate of mental illness among people given an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence. It was found that of around 4,600 IPP prisoners in England and Wales, just 31 had been released in the last year.

IPP is an indeterminate sentence for offenders whose crimes are not serious enough for life imprisonment, but who are considered by the court to be potentially dangerous. Offenders can only be released once the Parole Board is satisfied they no longer pose a risk to the public.

The report found that IPP prisoners with mental health problems were often unable to get on to offending behaviour programmes without which they were unable to show they were no longer dangerous.

Uncertainty and hopelessness

Report co-author and prison psychiatrist Dr Ian Cumming said “Some IPP prisoners are concealing mental health problems in case they are barred from offending behaviour programmes.”

The charity warned that the sentence could aggravate existing mental health problems because of the “uncertainty and hopelessness” it creates and that prison mental health services were struggling to cope with demand. 

Sainsbury Centre chief executive Angela Greatley said she was concerned that some people with severe mental health problems were being handed an IPP sentence rather than being detained in hospital.

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