IPP prisoners labelled ‘suicide risk’ as they are prevented from seeing family

Concerns have been raised that people in prison for public protection sentences may be at risk of mental health issues as the Labour party has withdrawn support for amendments to the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Amendments to the bill would have seen improved conditions for those imprisoned on Public Protection (IPPs) which has led campaigners to express fears at a ‘heightened risk of suicide and self-harm among IPP prisoners’, many of whom were convicted for minor offences such as stealing a mobile phone.

In 2005, the Labour party introduced IPP sentences for prisoners with a ‘minimum tariff’. Their release would be subject to proving to the parole board that they were safe to re-establish themselves within their local communities.

In 2012, the sentence was abolished due to overuse and increasing concerns over the psychological impact on inmates. However, this change was not made retrospective, and thousands are today left in prison with low prospects of release. Recent Government data showed that 2,796 people are still in prison today serving IPPs, 99% of whom are over-tariff and 705 of whom are 10 or more years over-tariff.

It has been reported that many IPP inmates haven’t seen family since their sentencing, and others have served near enough life-sentences for common assault in a system that The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Dr Alice Edwards, has labelled “psychological torture”.

Thomas White, who stole a mobile phone in 2012 and given a minimum two-year sentence, has still not been released. White was allowed to his 14-year-old son Kayden last month for the first time since his incarceration after the support of Lord Blunkett. Another prisoner, Aaron Graham, who was given a two and a half year sentence for punching someone whilst protecting a friend during a fight in 2005, is one of the UK’s longest serving IPP prisoners who has had a 20-year stretch behind bars for his crime.

In a previous statement by Shadow Home Affairs Spokesperson, Lord Ponsonby, Keir Starmer’s Labour Party committed its support for a key amendment, the ‘Simon Brown Memorial Amendment.’ The amendment is named after the late former Supreme Court Justice, who labelled IPP the “greatest single stain on the British Justice system.

The historic amendment proposed to reverse the Parole Board release test – so that the burden of proof determining whether a prisoner should be released would fall on the Parole Board, not the prisoner – and could have led to much fairer release decisions for thousands of IPPs who otherwise would languish in prison for years to come.

However, at the debate earlier this week, the Labour Party reneged on its commitment of support for this crucial amendment, which would have then passed through to the House of Commons.

Lord Moylan, who tabled the Simon Brown Memorial Amendment, said:

“I remain committed to trying to correct the injustice of IPP. The Simon Brown Memorial Amendment was a crucial opportunity to help nudge the dial in the right direction for IPP prisoners.”

Lord Blunkett, former Home Secretary, and architect behind the contentious Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences added:

 “IPP has at last reached the public’s ear. The injustice of those finding themselves still subject to the IPP/DPP sentence 12 years on from its abolition, is now well known and appreciated by everyone who understands the double-bind – the longer the agony continues, the more difficult rehabilitation becomes.”

Recent government data showed that there were 1,886 instances of self-harm among IPPs last year, and that 86 IPPs have committed suicide in prison since 2005 , making them 10 times more likely to do so than the average UK prisoner.

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crimes and Justice Studies, said:

“Labour had a chance today to support a pretty modest change, and they bottled it. Over many months, MPs, Peers, IPP prisoners and their families, and advocacy groups and campaigners, have worked tirelessly to craft numerous modest and incremental legislative changes to undo the toxic legacy of the awful IPP sentence. Today’s Labour Party has a political responsibility to sort out what has become a lethal mess created by a previous Labour government. This is a really disappointing set back. The battle to end the IPP sentence continues.”

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