MPs are calling for urgent action to assess the cases of more than 300 prisoners in Yorkshire who are facing indefinite jail sentences, warning that poor access to rehabilitation programmes and delays signing-off their release are fueling a crisis in the prison system.
Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post through a freedom of information request reveal that there are currently 309 inmates in the region detained under now-obsolete Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences – 213 of whom have already served their original tariff.
Earlier this year, the head of the public body charged with deciding whether these prisoners are safe for release warned a backlog in processing their cases had left many “stuck, festering” in a cell.
The organisation has stressed it is committed to tackling these delays, but MPs argue the Government must do more to ensure IPP prisoners are being successfully rehabilitated.
“The Conservative Government urgently needs to come forward with solutions that keep the public safe and that ensure that prisoners have access to the rehabilitation programs they need so they can leave prison as reformed characters,” said Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon.
“IPP is creating an unnecessary burden on a prison system that is already at breaking point... The crisis in our prisons is fuelling a mental health epidemic and making rehabilitation much less likely.
“All of these cases in our region must be urgently assessed. Where people have served the minimum tariff and no longer pose a danger to society, they should be given clarity as to when they will be released.”
IPP sentences were introduced in 2005 as a means to ensure that dangerous offenders stay in custody for as long as they present a risk to society. Once an inmate has served a minimum “tariff”, they are required to satisfy the Parole Board they no longer pose a threat before they can be released.
The sentences were abolished in 2012 but not for existing prisoners, and critics have expressed concern about the length of time some less-serious offenders remain in jail beyond their tariff.
Parole Board chairman Nick Hardwick spoke out earlier this year, calling for changes to the test to determine whether a inmate is fit for release and warning that some individuals “are stuck, festering, in prison long after the punishment part of the sentence”.
The FOI figures show there are currently 309 offenders serving IPP sentences across 10 prisons in the Yorkshire area. 213 have already served their tariff. Wakefield has the highest overall number of IPP inmates (63) but Hull has the highest number that are “post-tariff” (52).
Hull MP Emma Hardy said she would contact the Justice Secretary, David Lidington, “to urge the government to speed up the process of reviewing these cases”. “While it is definitely important to ensure that members of the public are protected, our justice system is also based upon the principle of certainty of sentence,” she said.
Alexander Hewson, of the Prison Reform Trust, said the sentences "cast a long shadow over our justice system", adding: "The onus is now on the Government to act and finally put an end to this unfair and unjust sentence."
A spokesman for the Parole Board said the organisation is working to ensure that the majority of IPP prisoners have been safely released, "or... have clear plans in place that will enable them to progress", by the end of 2017.
“We are also committed to reducing the backlog of cases waiting to be heard so that all prisoners, including IPPs, receive a timely hearing,” they said.
A ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are determined to address the challenge of making sure all IPP prisoners have the support they need to show they are no longer a threat to public safety.
“We have been working closely with the Parole Board to process these cases as quickly as possible and, earlier this year, we set up a new unit focused on this and improving the efficiency of the parole process.”
The figures in full:
Full Sutton 37 (26)*
Hatfield 17 (14)
Hull 56 (52)
Humber 34 (31)
Leeds 9 (9)
Lindholme 40 (34)
Moorland 32 (30)
New Hall 7 (6)
Wakefield 63 (36)
Wealstun 14 (11)
*Figure in bold = population serving Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) as of 30 June 2017
(Figure in brackets) = population serving Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) who are post-tariff