The most scandalous story in the British justice system: Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs)
“Thousands of people remain in prison, held not for what they have done, but for what they might do”. (1)
In early 2012 Thomas White was sentenced for stealing a mobile phone and due to previous convictions Thomas was sentenced on an IPP. Having served the original 2 year sentence he still remains in prison for crimes Thomas has not committed. In this article we would like to introduce to IPPs and share with you Thomas’s story through the words of his sister Clara and Pastor Mick Fleming who has been supporting and campaigning for the release of Thomas and other offenders who are in similar circumstances.
Introduction to IPPs
In 2003 the Criminal Justice Act created new legislation for the sentencing of serious offenders who did not merit a life sentence for their crimes. The guidelines are known as ‘Sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection’ (IPPs) and began to be implemented in April 2005. The Prison Reform Trust states that IPPs consist of the following elements: an offender will serve a minimum term in prison, an offender can be detained for a potentially unlimited period, an offender must prove that they are no longer a threat to society, and upon release into the community the offender will be on licence with the possibility of being returned to custody.
“Offenders serving IPPs would often develop severe mental health issues, including psychosis, depression, and suicidal tendencies.”
However, it became apparent that IPPs were not working and were having severe consequences on victims, offenders, and their families. IPPs have led to inconsistent sentencing with some offenders being given an IPP while others who had committed similar crimes were given a fixed term sentence. IPPs were also given to offenders who had committed low level crimes with a sentence of less than 2 years. IPPs were leaving the victims of some crimes uncertain on when the offender would be released from prison. Offenders serving IPPs would often develop severe mental health issues, including psychosis, depression, and suicidal tendencies.
In July 2011, the then Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review of IPPs. As a consequence of this review and a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights which stated that IPPs were arbitrary and violated article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights (3), IPPs were abolished in 2012. However, the abolishment of IPPs was not retrospective meaning some offenders still remain imprisoned on an IPP and not for the crimes they originally committed but for crimes they may commit in the future.
“IPPs are the most scandalous stories in the British justice system and that the psychological impact on a person serving an IPP would amount to psychological torture”
Just think about this for a minute, people who have committed a crime, served their sentence for that crime are being held in prison for potential crimes that they may commit in the future. Speaking on Sky News Alice Jill Edwards (United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture) stated that IPPs are the most scandalous stories in the British justice system and that the psychological impact on a person serving an IPP would amount to psychological torture (4).
I find it heartbreaking that my brother is still in prison serving a sentence for crimes that the UK justice system believes Thomas might, I stress might, commit in the future. The original sentence was 2 years for stealing a mobile phone, it was not a violent crime and no weapons were used. 11 years later Thomas is still in prison due to an IPP. During the 11 years Thomas has been in prison he has been moved over 16 times between various prisons around the country, which in itself has impacted Thomas’s mental health.
One of the conditions of serving an IPP sentence is that while Thomas is in prison he must undertake various progressive courses/ programmes to reduce the risk of committing further crimes and support rehabilitation back into society. But, there are no spaces on these courses, if they exist at all. In some of the prisons where the courses do exist the waiting list can be up to 2 years and priority is given to people serving life sentences. According to the European Court of Human Rights when IPPs were first implemented there was an understanding that rehabilitative treatment, courses, and programmes would be available to support reformation and social reintegration. However, due to the number of people placed on an IPP the prison authorities were unable to put in place sufficient and adequate courses and treatment, leaving prisoners like Thomas with no opportunity to demonstrate a reduction in risk and be released. Thomas is literally falling through a massive gap in the British Justice system and within HM Prison Service.
“It is like the system is wanting to keep Thomas in prison for no apparent reason and to bury anything to do with IPP prisoners.”
In 2016 I started to receive phone calls from Thomas, he had lost all hope and his mental health had deteriorated to the extent that his behaviour in the prison had been noticed by prison staff. However, instead of providing a mental health referral to receive treatment they placed him in solitary confinement. The phone calls continued from Thomas and became more worrying as he believed that he had become Jesus Christ, but still there was no help for his mental health. He also keeps getting passed over for parole, the last one was just a paper assessment which meant nothing and Thomas was not given any opportunity for an aural assessment. It is like the system is wanting to keep Thomas in prison for no apparent reason and to bury anything to do with IPP prisoners, of which there are still thousands being held in prisons around the country.
For me personally, trying to get Thomas released has cost me my own mental health. About 1 year ago I reached burnout and was admitted into hospital and placed on diazepam. After a psychiatric assessment I was diagnosed with PTSD caused by secondary trauma from my brother’s situation. I was simply exhausted, however I will not leave him in there, if I stop trying to get his release he will die in there from suicide, a broken heart or ill health.
“It was one of those moments when you hear something and think, is that really true.”
Pastor Mick Fleming
I first heard about Thomas’s situation and his sister Clara about 1 year ago while I was attending a parliamentary event for the resentencing of IPP prisoners. It was one of those moments when you hear something and think, is that really true. I was not questioning Thomas’s situation, but I was questioning the fact that the British government was actually keeping people in prison for crimes a person may commit in the future. I have to stress this point as it is really important: the British Justice system is keeping people in prison for crimes that the justice system believes will be committed in the future.
Thomas, and his family are victims of the UK justice system. Do not get me wrong, Thomas had committed a crime and served his 2 year sentence without issue, but why 11 years later Thomas still remains in prison. Thomas is caught in a cruel and unforgiving justice system whereby all opportunities for release have been taken away. His mental health is being exasperated by being in prison, even the doctors have said that the IPP sentence that Thomas is serving has been a contributor to his poor mental health.
“In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, the reason why Thomas is in this position is money and fear.”
It was a huge breakthrough when IPPs were abolished in 2012, but why are thousands of prisoners still being held in prison serving IPPs when The British Government know that IPPs are a huge mistake, they know prisoners are committing suicide, they know the mental health of IPP prisoners is being severely impacted, they know the damage being caused to the families of prisoners. In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, the reason why Thomas is in this position is money and fear. Funding is not available to provide Thomas the opportunities to attend courses, programmes, and the treatment he needs to prove he can be released with minimal risk. There is also a fear of potential compensation claims being made if the UK government admits that the keeping of prisoners on an IPP is a mistake and a miscarriage of justice. Thomas’s situation and the situation of thousands of other prisoners is abhorrent, inhumane, and not justice. However, like many painful and difficult situations some good does come from it, a small ray of light appears out of the darkness. As I have walked with Clara I have seen her find her own identity and not just a woman fighting for justice. Coming through her own mental health struggles I have seen Clara grow and find out who she is in her own self and this brings healing to my heart.
If you feel comfortable, I would like to ask you to pray for Thomas, Clara and the thousands of other people and their families who are suffering the consequences of an IPP sentence. If any of this article has impacted you personally and would like to talk please do get in touch below. Thank you and God bless.
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- Prison Reform Trust, https://prisonreformtrust.org.uk/project/imprisonment-for-public-protection-ipp/
- Ministry of Justice IPP factsheet https://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/legislation/bills-acts/legal-aid-sentencing/ipp-factsheet.pdf
- United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=28329
- Sky News https://news.sky.com/video/inside-the-lives-of-ipp-prisoners-serving-sentences-of-psychological-torture-12972067