Seven inmates who have been locked up in prison on indefinite terms have killed themselves since the government refused to resentence them, The independent can reveal.
The prison watchdog has launched investigations into a string of self-inflicted deaths amid a “worrying rise” in incidents among public protection (IPP) prisoners – with campaigners warning that the “desperation” associated with the controversial sentences has tragic consequences concequenses.
It comes after former justice secretary Dominic Raab rejected cross-party recommendations to resentence IPP prisoners, despite imprisonment – a form of indeterminate sentencing in which offenders are punished with a minimum jail term but not a maximum – described as “the biggest blot on the judiciary our system”.
The sentences were abolished in 2012, but not retroactively, leaving nearly 3,000 incarcerated with no clear hope of release – nearly 700 of whom have served more than 10 years beyond their minimum term.
Lord Blunkett, who admitted he regretted introducing the measures as home secretary in 2005, said The independent There needs to be a change in the system that “gives hope” to prisoners. “The longer they're in, the longer they're institutionalized, the more their mental health deteriorates. We don't need to give people that hope.”
Shocking examples of those languishing in prison under unjust punishment include:
- Wayne Bell, who was jailed for at least two years for taking a bicycle in 2007. He is still in prison after more than 16 years and his family fear he will never be freed
- Thomas White was sentenced to at least two years in prison for stealing a mobile phone in 2012, but after more than 11 years in prison, he has never been released
- Aaron Graham, who punched a man in a fight, was given an IPP sentence with a minimum jail term of two years and 124 days in 2005 but has served almost 20 years, including time on remand.
Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the justice committee which urged the government to crack down on all IPP detainees, described the latest deaths as “tragic and worrying”, adding that it was “likely” some of these lives could have been saved if the government had accept the recommendation.
Donna Mooney, whose brother took his own life in 2015 while serving a sentence for car theft, said there was “no doubt” the government's rejection cost lives as prisoners “gave up completely”, leaving grieving families to pick up the pieces.
Ms Mooney, a campaigner with the United Group for Reform of IPP (Ungripp), which supports two of the seven recently bereaved families, said The independent: “We are victims of this punishment, since we have never committed a crime.”
Next month, it will be 11 years since IPP sentences were abolished in Britain after the European Court of Human Rights found they were “fundamentally unfair”.
Originally designed to protect the public from serious offenders whose crimes did not warrant a life sentence, they were widely used and often imposed for low-level crimes before they were axed in 2012.
The latest figures show that 2,921 IPP prisoners were still incarcerated at the end of September. Of these, 1,269 were never released, while 1,652 were recalled to prison after strict 10-year license terms.
In a justice select committee report last year, MPs said IPP sentences were “irretrievably flawed” and led to high levels of self-harm.
Although the government accepted or partially accepted eight of the commission's recommendations, it rejected three, including the key recommendation that prisoners caught on the weakest sentence be re-sentenced.
In his dismissal on February 9, Mr Raab insisted that re-suing would create an unacceptable risk if the prisoners were released. Sir Bob described the decision as “a missed opportunity to right a wrong”.
A prisoner died at HMP Swaleside just over two weeks later, The independent he learned, with two more deaths the following month in Coldingley and Bristol.
One prisoner died at HMP Stocken in May, while another died in Bristol in July. The PPO is investigating two other self-inflicted deaths at HMPs Dovegate and Humber in the past month.
A family member described the situation as “the greatest injustice the country has seen since Hillsborough”. Clara White, whose brother Thomas has served more than 11 years for stealing a phone, has revealed he developed schizophrenia while in prison. A psychiatric evaluation found that his deteriorating mental health was caused by the desperation of his IPP sentence.
Wayne Bell's mental health has also collapsed after being jailed in 2007, aged 17, for stealing a bicycle. He spent several years in a secure hospital after being found catatonic “skin and bones” in his cell, before returning to prison. “We're just waiting for that phone call to say Wayne's gone now,” said his sister Alana. “He destroyed him.”
Cheri Nicole's brother, Aaron Graham, has been in prison for almost two decades, including a jail term, after he was placed under Grievous bodily harm for leaving a man with a fractured cheekbone in a fight. said Cherry The independent: “She stole his life – the chance to have a family and a career. He stole everything he has.”
Ms Mooney, whose brother had served six years in prison when he died despite the minimum four-year duty, called for Justice Secretary Alex Chalk to intervene.
He said: “There is no doubt in my mind about that [resentencing] it would have saved lives. Until something major changes, I think this will continue to happen. And that's horrible because the government is just letting people die.”
He argued that sorting out the IPP issue could “empty three prisons” amid a prison capacity crisis. “This is an extreme situation and it will only continue until something changes. These people must be given hope. Revival is the safest and fairest route. It's not about opening the gates and letting everyone out.”
The prisons and probation ombudsman, Adrian Usher, warned of a “worrying increase” in self-inflicted IPP deaths in September. In 2022, nine people serving IPC sentences took their own lives – the highest annual figure on record. With seven deaths recorded this year in the eight months since February, campaigners fear this year the total could be even higher.
Mr Usher said sentences should be considered a risk factor for prisoners, noting that of the 19 self-inflicted deaths since 2019, only five prisoners were being monitored by specialist teams for those at risk of suicide and self-harm.
Responding to the latest deaths, Mr Usher said The independent: “We have continued to see self-inflicted deaths of IPP prisoners this year and I believe more needs to be done to ensure that these high levels of self-inflicted deaths do not continue.”
Lord Blunkett implored Mr Chalk at a recent Lords select committee to “fix something I've done wrong”.
During the meeting, Mr Chalk said he was considering reducing the 10-year license period to five years, but spoke of his reluctance to release prisoners who could go on to commit “heinous crimes”.
said Lord Blunkett The independent He helped families whose loved ones were on suicide watch under that proposal, but admitted he was “pessimistic” whether the Government would give so much as a “nod” to Sir Bob's amendment to the Victims and Survivors Bill. prisoners.
Mark Day, deputy director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the “hopelessness and despair” associated with an IPP sentence could have “tragic consequences”.
He added: “Ministers have a responsibility to address the ongoing injustice faced by people in IPPs and their loved ones. Alex Chalk must come forward with workable proposals to help bring the sentence to an end.”
Andrea Coomber, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, added: “Every self-inflicted death of a person serving an IPP sentence is a disgraceful indictment of our justice system and these figures underline the need for ministers to act decisively to end the suffering those in prison and their families”.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the department was “carefully considering” what could be done to address the plight of IPP prisoners.
They added: “We abolished IPP sentences in 2012 and have already reduced the number of uncommitted IPP prisoners by three quarters. We also help those still in custody move towards release, including improving access to rehabilitation programs and mental health support.
“While public protection will always be our priority, we are carefully considering what additional measures may be put in place.”