Prison service 'cannot cope with indefinite sentences'

Government urged to reconsider 'unsustainable' policy

Controversial open-ended prison sentences introduced to protect the public may have to be scrapped after inspectors warned that their cost to the penal system outweighed any benefits.

Just 75 of almost 6,000 convicts held under the indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP) have won their liberty since the measure was brought in by Labour four years ago.

The result, said Chief Inspector of Probation, Andrew Bridges, and the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, is that prisons have become swamped with inmates whom the probation service did not have the resources to deal with. They warned that the situation has become "unsustainable" and called on ministers to begin a major review of the policy.

Mr Bridges said: "A high number of prisoners remain in the system and continue to enter it. There will continue to be huge numbers of such prisoners that neither the probation service nor the prison system currently has the capacity to handle effectively.

"We consider that the present position is unsustainable. This suggests the need for a major policy review at ministerial level. Such a review would need to consider whether the resources needed to manage these sentences properly are proportionate to the benefits they might achieve."

The inspectors' first report, published in September 2008, concluded that the surge of prisoners subject to the new sentences was flooding the prison system. Today's report expresses doubts about probation's capacity to work effectively with each case when the number of prisoners still coming through the system is so great.

The report was welcomed by prison reform groups, who said the IPP was pushing the prison system to breaking point. In 2008, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in response to evidence submitted by the Prison Reform Trust, said it was deeply concerned by the effect of IPP sentences on some prisoners.

A number of MPs have taken up the concerns of their constituents who find themselves affected by the IPP sentence. Andrew Stunnell MP will today table an early day motion on the issue following the Inspectorates' joint report and submissions made by the Prison Reform Trust.

Commenting on the findings of the review, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "This review offers further evidence of the chaos the ill-thought-out IPP sentence has caused in the criminal justice system. The Government's response has veered between bravado and blankness.

"On the one hand it has boasted publicly about its toughness in introducing the sentence.

"On the other it has blanked out the damage to individuals and their families trapped in a maze with no exit, and ignored the operational chaos caused on prison landings by the massive new load the sentence entails."

She added: "While you can never eradicate risk, it must be possible to identify the few genuinely dangerous people amongst the thousands we stack up and leave to rot on indeterminate jail sentences, which in itself is a dangerous and stupid thing to do.

"The Government has played gesture politics while neglecting its management responsibilities to the prison system."

IPP prisoners make up one in 15 of the total prison population, but managing them through their sentences is more resource-intensive than work with those on fixed-term sentences.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said IPP sentences were introduced to make sure that violent and dangerous offenders can only be released by the Parole Board if they no longer pose a threat to society.

"We recognise that this means that prisoners could remain in prison for many years beyond the minimum term set by the judge. Indeed, these sentences are an important part of a strategy on tackling crime which has seen crime fall by almost 40 per cent since 1997."

He added: "The Government keeps all sentences under review to ensure they are operating effectively, and we welcome the Chief Inspectors' recommendations for further improvements."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee