Government and politics, Legal, criminological and forensic, Mental health

Government urged to resentence people on IPP sentences which cause psychological harms

We're calling for every person still serving an IPP to receive a new sentence that balances justice with public protection.

26 April 2023

The BPS and Probation Institute are together supporting the findings of the Justice Select Committee inquiry report into Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences, ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday 27 April 2023.

The report recommended that every person still serving an IPP should receive a new sentence that balances justice with public protection. It also recommended reviewing people's IPP sentences five years after release from prison.

The BPS and Probation Institute are disappointed that the government has rejected both recommendations, and are calling on MPs to support the re-sentencing of all prisoners subject to IPP sentences, as soon as possible.

The inquiry heard evidence about the psychological harm that is caused by indefinite imprisonment under a sentence abolished in law, which is wrongful, and undermines rehabilitation and risk management efforts.

The report recommended greater planning and resources dedicated to the mental health, release and resettlement of people serving IPP sentences. The BPS and Probation Institute welcome this, but are highlighting the potential impact of these changes on the staff who work in prisons, including psychologists and probation staff.

The organisations are calling for a clear strategy from the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service on improving access to mental health support for IPP prisoners, including transfers to secure hospitals and therapeutic settings. There also needs to be a fully-formed and costed strategy to address the large gaps in the workforce.

Dr Nic Bowes, chair of the BPS' Division of Forensic Psychology, said:

"The report symbolises the restoration of hope for those who are on an IPP sentence. We know that IPP sentences cause acute harm to the mental health of those subject to them, fostering a lack of trust in the system that is meant to rehabilitate them. 

"It is a welcome step towards reversing these harms, and creating a system that is focused on rehabilitation and values the mental health of prisoners. It is vital that the government accepts the report's recommendations and commits to resentencing people on IPP sentences as a matter of urgency.

"We are cautious however about the increased demand this will place on psychologists working in the prison service and on probation staff, which is why the resources and workforce issues must be addressed as a matter of priority."

Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe, chair of the Probation Institute, said:

"The Justice Committee report outlines a group who have found themselves experiencing an unjust legacy, after a change in the law that was used to sentence them, but not a change in their circumstances.

"We urge the government to remedy the injustice in their situation and to ensure that probation staff are resourced to provide a professional service to them and to potential victims."

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