I’m one of thousands of prisoners with no release date in sight – this is how the IPP sentence ruined my life

I’ve served 14 years for a three-year sentence. What I’ve been through is shocking. And yet still there is no concern for the physical and mental wellbeing of people like me

Ian Hartley
Wednesday 02 October 2019 12:37 BST
Prison conditions ‘most disturbing ever seen’ with staff now inured to jails not fit for 21st century, watchdog says in damning report

If you’re unfamiliar with Imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences, let me fill you in. It's a draconian sentence and a human rights violation. As an IPP prisoner myself, I should know. Despite being abolished in 2012 by the European Court of Human Rights, so many of us are still locked up in – to use the government’s own words – a “not defensible” system that's overrun with violence, intimidation, drugs and very big on manipulation.

I've been in quite a few jails where the officers open prisoners up on the wing for association time, then go and lock themselves away in their offices, leaving us without support or protection. Prison is pretty much the wild west. And it's in that environment that IPPs like me have to prove we're not a risk to others in order to escape an indefinite sentence. It’s not easy.

Although the sentence was abolished seven years ago, around 2,400 are still serving their sentence. While there will be some that need to stay in prison, we should all have our sentences reviewed. For a lot of us, such a punishment doesn’t reflect the crime, and it has destroyed a lot of prisoners and their loved ones.

IPP was brought out in 2006 and was meant to be for only about 1000-2000 people at the very most. In reality, it was handed out to 8,956, according to recent reports, a big shock to an already overflowing system. The sentence was meant to be for sex offenders and very violent people, but at the time judges didn't really understand it, as in my case. Three days after being sentenced, I was taken back to court for the judge to explain what he had done, which is unheard of, because normally, a judge would explain the meaning of a sentence on the day of a hearing. In my case, the judge didn’t know himself.

The IPP sentence has had a really bad effect on people like me and their families. Many have died by suicide over the hopelessness of the sentence. I know I'm a strong person but there have been times when I've been on the brink of going myself.

The sentence was abolished, so why are so many of us being kept here? No matter how you look at it, our mental health is being affected, in some cases a lot more severely than others. We might have a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep in and food to eat, but in my view, animals receive much better treatment. There is no hope when you don't have a release date. Fourteen years ago, I got just under three years for armed robbery. I've known people who have taken another life and haven’t had to serve 14 years straight in prison.

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What needs to change? I could probably fill about 30 pages with that one, so I’ll stick to the main points. More focus needs to be put on the IPPs left in the system, not just before parole. As on the outside, we have probation officers in the prison called offender supervisors, and that relationship needs to be strong. I've been in this prison over 10 months and I’ve seen my offender supervisor three times; there is no relationship. It’s the same with the outside probation officers, really. For IPP prisoners, it's very important that these relationships are strong and good and positive and productive. But they're not. Statistics show more than 900 IPPs got released last year. About time. But they also show over 700 people have been placed straight back on recall to prison for very minor things. Some are back because they need to be, but it's worth bearing in mind that one can be recalled for the slightest infringement.

I won't go into my case because I've got another parole in a few days. But what I’ve been through is shocking. One day I'd like to tell my side of the story, but not right now, when my freedom is at stake. The government must review all IPP sentences, then see what it’s left with. The ones who are let out may be supervised if necessary. But what IPPs need is an end goal; you can't work towards nothing.

To find out more about the Smash IPP campaign calling for the release of current IPPs, click here

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