IPP sentences: Labour won't back bid to help 'desperate' prisoners

Families of offenders serving an "inhumane" prison sentence abolished more than a decade ago have said they are "bitterly disappointed" after a proposal to change the parole process was dropped due to a lack of Labour support.

Peers in the House of Lords are due to vote on a series of amendments relating to imprisonment for public protection sentences (IPP) - a type of open-ended jail term that has previously been denounced as "inhumane" and a form of "psychological torture" by UN torture expert Alice Jill Edwards.

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Ms Edwards had urged both main parties to back an amendment by Tory peer Lord Moylan that would reverse the burden of proof, so the Parole Board would have to prove an IPP offender is too dangerous to be released - rather than the prisoners themselves having to demonstrate they no longer pose a risk to the public.

Ms Edwards told Sky News the burden of proof "has been one of the greatest obstacles to ensuring prisoners can secure release" and she welcomed Lord Moylan's amendment.

She urged the Tories and Labour "not to miss this chance to improve a desperate human rights situation for so many prisoners in England and Wales".

However, Lord Moylan later confirmed in the Lords debate that he would no longer push his amendment - citing the Labour Party's decision to abstain.

Lord Moylan said he was "disappointed" by the decision, which campaigners also branded a "gut punch to IPP prisoners and their families".

Lord Moylan will instead support a similar proposal by crossbench peer Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, which would require the Parole Board to take into account the length of the term already served in addition to the seriousness of the offence(s) they were convicted of when considering whether to grant release.

Sky News understands Labour will also abstain on this amendment.

What are IPP sentences?

Implemented in 2005 under the then Labour government, IPP is a prison sentence with no release date that was intended for serious violent and sexual offenders who posed a significant risk of serious harm to the public but whose crimes did not warrant a life term.

Although the government's stated aim was public protection, concerns quickly grew that IPP sentences were being applied too broadly and catching more minor offenders - often serving much more jail time than their initial term.

IPPs were abolished by the coalition government in 2012, but the change was not retrospective - meaning 2,852 prisoners remain behind bars, including 1,227 who have never been released.

Sky News has previously detailed cases such as Thomas White, who was handed a two-year minimum jail sentence under IPP four months before the sentences were abolished - but remains in prison 12 years later.

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'Utter devastation'

Speaking to Sky News after Lord Moylan pulled his amendment, Mr White's mother, Margaret, said she was "completely deflated" and added: "These are human beings we are talking about."

"I have no doubt that my son will live out the rest of his days in prison," she added.

Cherrie Nicol, whose brother Aaron was sentenced to two years and 124 days for committing grievous bodily harm in 2005 and is in jail 18 years later, said she was "bitterly disappointed" the Moylan amendment may be dropped.

She said IPP sentences had caused "utter devastation" for families, and led to prisoners taking their own life.

A spokesperson for campaign group Ungripp warned a failure to act could lead to a further wave of suicides.

At least 86 IPP prisoners have taken their own lives since the sentences were introduced in 2005.

"We are extremely disappointed that Labour will not be supporting the amendment, especially as they were the architects of the IPP," they said.

Richard Garside of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said he'd understood Labour would back the amendment, describing it as a "real gut punch".

A Labour spokesperson said it was right to abolish IPP sentences and vowed the party would "work at pace to make progress on IPPs" should it enter government, consulting "widely" to ensure any action plan is "effective and based on the evidence".

But they added: "It is not possible to make assessments on the individual needs of IPP offenders from opposition without the relevant information, which is confidential."