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  • Writer's pictureangelakirwinuk

What the hell are "IPPZ" and why should we free them?

Last week, Strangeways prison (HMP Manchester) went into lockdown as an inmate took to the roof for over 12 hours to stage a protest. He made a heart sign with his hands and wrote 'FREE IPPZ' across the roof.

The man eventually came down willingly and prison bosses state he will 'face punishment' for his peaceful protest. For some, the scenes were reminiscent of 1990 and the riot that saw inmates taking to the roof for 25 days to protest conditions inside the establishment.

Then, as now, serves as a stark reminder that keeping the peace behind the walls cannot be done by force alone. There must be some degree of consent from those incarcerated for calmness to prevail. That is possible when the system that locks people up is perceived to be just:

'Fair cop, guv, you got me.'

But when it comes to IPPs, no one with even the slightest knowledge of these sentences is able to defend them. There's plenty of debate around how we should treat people who commit crimes, but there is no debate about how we should deal with IPP prisoners. Because politicians, governors, prison staff, inmates and campaigners all agree with the message that we should 'FREE IPPZ'.

Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences were brought in under the Criminal Justice Act in 2003 and started being doled out in 2005. Although intended to be used to deal with only the most dangerous criminals, the law was written in such a way that life sentences were given out to people for relatively minor crimes. Some were indefinitely recalled to prison for breaches of probation conditions, not for breaking the law.

I wrote in CRIMINAL about Titch, a man I worked with who had served his whole prison sentence for his original crime, but found himself back inside for years after admitting to his probation officer that he had relapsed on drugs. He found himself in a hellish Catch 22, where each year he was taken from his cell to the parole board, begging for his freedom, all because he relapsed.

IPP sentences were abolished in 2012, but not retrospectively. There are still over 2000 people in prison today, way beyond the tariff of their original sentence. People are serving longer sentences than murderers and sex offenders for far lesser crimes and sometimes, for no crime at all. In 2014, David Blunkett expressed 'regret' for bringing these sentences into law. Senior prison staff also agree that IPP were 'poorly planned and implemented and resulted in unjust punishments'.

More recently, this Government's Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, requires the Secretary of State to automatically refer every eligible IPP offender to the Parole Board for licence termination. This has not yet happened. And the government is giving us no good reason why it has not yet happened.

After the 1990 Strangeways riot, the government vowed to improve prison conditions, reduce overcrowding and stop the practice of slopping out. It failed on all counts. We cannot allow that to happen again. We can, and we must, free IPPs.

(Image Credit: Sean Hansford)

(Quotes used from 'CRIMINAL - How Our Prisons Are Failing Us All')

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