Inspectors urge indeterminate prison sentence review

The prisons and probation inspectorates have called for a major review of indeterminate prison sentences in a report today .

The report also renewed concerns over disabled prisoners’ ability to meet conditions required for release.

The chief inspectors of probation and prisons, Andrew Bridges and Anne Owers, questioned whether the benefits of indeterminate sentences for public protection (IPP) for adults, and detention for public protection (DPP) sentences for children outweighed the costs. They said neither the prisons nor the probation service had the capacity to handle the large number of prisoners involved.

Indeterminate sentences are given to offenders found guilty of a violent or sexual crime and who are deemed to pose a risk to the public. Release can only be secured on licence and on the recommendation of the Parole Board, on the basis that the offender no longer poses a threat to the public.

The joint report, Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection, revealed that by December 2009, 5,788 adults had received an IPP sentence, with 2,393 having passed their tariff date. Just 75 had been released and stayed out of jail.

A previous report, led by the prison service, was critical of the lack of support given to often very vulnerable prisoners and made 30 separate recommendations.

A 2008 study by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health also found that IPP prisoners with mental health problems were not getting the support they needed to secure release.

Today’s report, which focused on probation’s role, found that in a quarter of cases studied, prisoners had a disability that needed attention if they were to make progress with their sentencing plan. However, in a third of these cases, pre-sentence reports had not demonstrated sufficient understanding of their needs.

The report said that the level of work required by prison and probation staff working with prisoners on IPPs was far more demanding than working with those serving fixed-terms sentences.

Even when released most IPP prisoners will be subject to active supervision for a number of years, which has workload and resource implications.

Chief inspector of probation Andrew Bridges said: “There will continue to be huge numbers of such prisoners that neither the probation service nor the prison system currently has the capacity to handle effectively. We consider that the present position is unsustainable.

“This suggests the need for a major policy review at ministerial level.”

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