The objective for most people on probation is to get through supervision as quickly and as painlessly as possible. They turn up to appointments on time and complete set objectives, always with one goal in sight: no licence, no supervision, just freedom.
For those on IPP, it’s different. No matter how many work placements or upskill programmes they complete, no matter how well they present, or try to better themselves, it’s a sentence they cannot shake. They are, in effect, on endless probation unless an application for their licence to be cancelled after 10 years is successful.
One of my cases was recalled to prison for living in a shared house with a man who was arrested for possession of illegal drugs.
Paul (I have changed his name) had served 16 years for a robbery he committed in 1998 on an eight-year minimum tariff.
In his seven years on probation until that point, there had not been one issue on his file with attendance, further offending or risk factors escalating. By the time I managed to speak to Paul, the other man had already been released. I’d seen the paperwork.
For Paul, however, a recall meant going back to the cells and having his parole hearing delayed due to the COVID pandemic. Despite my recommendation of immediate release, Paul would have to wait before he was able to return to his life.
Nine months, as it turned out.
It was enough time for him to lose his job, have his house repossessed by the local authority and find himself sat back in front of me in tears as we tried to salvage what was left of the life he’d tried hard to build since being initially released.
This is a significant issue with the IPP sentence. Many in the community are being recalled not necessarily because they’ve committed another offence, but often for relatively minor breaches of licence, even when they present no risk to anyone.
For Paul, who had been in stable work and housing, the lasting effects of the IPP sentence were devastating. For others, though, it’s life threatening.
The Justice Select Committee in the UK parliament found that the indefinite nature of jail terms under the IPP scheme contributed to feelings of “hopelessness and despair”, which resulted in higher levels of self-harm and suicides among IPP prisoners.
There were nine suicides of people serving IPP sentences in 2022, according to campaign group United Group for Reform of IPP (UNGRIPP), which was the highest number of self-inflicted deaths in a single year since the scheme was introduced.
Cherrie Nichol, whose brother Aaron Graham is facing an indefinite period in jail after serving nearly eighteen years on a three-year sentence, told me she felt “very let down and ignored” by the government.
“My brother is depressed and locked up for 23 hours a day, but the real torture is not having a [release] date like everyone else,” she said. “I have accommodation for my brother. He could have security and stability here and still he’s locked away day after day. I’m scared to lose him.”
Prison officers stand outside Nottingham Prison, Britain September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Staples