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What is an IPP Prisoner: The Forgotten Prisoner’s of the British Justice System

IPP is an abbreviation for Imprisonment for Public Protection. IPP was a type of indeterminate prison sentence used in England and Wales between 2005 and 2012. IPP prisoners remain in custody indefinitely until they can prove to a parole board that they are rehabilitated and no longer dangerous. This article provides an overview of IPP sentences and the controversial legacy they left behind.

Origins of Imprisonment for Public Protection

The UK government introduced IPP sentences through the Criminal Justice Act of 2005. Their purpose was to indefinitely detain serious violent and sexual offenders after completing their original sentence.

Offenders had to serve a “tariff” minimum term set by the judge, but were not automatically released afterward. Instead, the parole board gained total discretion over approving their release only if rehabilitation could be proven.

IPP sentences aimed to protect the public from recidivism by the most dangerous offenders. However, controversy followed due to their implementation.

How IPP Sentences Were Applied

IPP sentences were mandatory for over 150 specified violent and sexual offenses carrying a minimum sentence of 2+ years. But judges could also impose IPPs discretionarily if they deemed an offender a public risk.

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As a result, IPPs were given inconsistently to both dangerous serial offenders and lower-risk individuals like first-time offenders or accomplices. Complex regulations meant misunderstandings were common.

Vastly more IPP sentences were imposed from 2005 to 2012 than intended or expected. Prison populations ballooned as a result.

Problems Faced by IPP Prisoners

IPP prisoners faced major problems including:

  • No fixed release date making sentences psychologically torturous
  • Serving years past their original tariff minimum term
  • Indefinite detention based on future risk rather than past crimes
  • Stuck in a cycle of parole hearings, rejections and appeals
  • Severe lack of required rehabilitation courses in prisons
  • Overcrowded prisons as IPP populations soared
  • Parole boards reluctant to approve releases
  • Dramatically higher rates of mental illness and suicide

IPT prisoners were largely warehoused indefinitely with no real path to rehabilitation or release.

Calls for IPP Abolition

By 2010, IPP prisoner populations had risen to over 6,000 despite sentences meant only for the most high-risk. Estimates suggested it could reach 10,000 by 2015.

With parole approval rates extremely low, most IPPs remained incarcerated indefinitely well past their tariff expiration. Prison overcrowding and costs skyrocketed.

Judges, legal experts, and prisoner advocacy groups spoke out against IPPs. The European Court of Human Rights began challenging indeterminate sentences as human rights violations.

IPP Abolition and Fairer Review

In 2012, the UK government introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act. This abolished IPP sentences for any new cases.

However, it did not remove IPPs retroactively. Over 4,000 prisoners sentenced before 2012 remain detained indefinitely to this day.

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Some reforms were introduced to facilitate parole for these groups. But progress remains slow with parole approval rates still less than 25%. Efforts continue to push for fairer IPP reviews or full abolition.

Ongoing Consequences for IPP Prisoners

Despite IPP sentence abolition, their legacy remains through the thousands still detained past tariffs. Many face:

  • Repeated parole denials and indefinite detention
  • Serving over a decade past their minimum terms
  • Waiting years for parole hearings due to backlogs
  • Lack of rehabilitation support in overcrowded prisons
  • Severe mental health tolls from indefinite sentences
  • Disproportional impacts on rehabilitated prisoners
  • Stigmatization for indefinite detention labels

For these groups, IPP abolition came too late. The controversial sentences continue disrupting lives and fueling overcrowding.

Is Indefinite Sentencing Ever Justified?

The failures of IPPs have sparked debate about whether any offenders should receive indefinite sentences solely based on risk assessments. Supporters argue:

  • Public safety outweighs liberty for the most dangerous
  • Some offenders may never be rehabilitated
  • Parole boards prevent unfair detention
  • Incapacitation deters recidivism if released

However, human rights advocates counter:

  • Recidivism models are imperfect predictions
  • People have capacity for change even after tariff served
  • Indefinite detention causes undue psychological harm
  • Regular parole reviews are inadequate safeguards
  • Fair sentencing requires proportionality between crime and time

These debates are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. But the IPP experience revealed many flaws with poorly implemented indeterminate sentencing.


IPP sentences aimed to protect the public but backfired into an inefficient system of indefinite detentions enabled by an overzealous model. Thousands remain stuck in limbo years after IPP abolition. While keeping society safe is important, indeterminate sentencing based solely on risk algorithms remains highly controversial. The legacy of IPPs serves as a prime example of justice and public safety goals in tension. Ongoing reform is still needed to resolve their impacts.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why were IPP sentences abolished?

Mainly because prisoner populations ballooned far beyond estimates as judges applied IPPs inconsistently. Prisons faced drastic overcrowding and parole systems were overwhelmed.

Are equivalent indefinite sentences used today?

Yes, life sentences serve a similar purpose today. However, the judge specifies the exact minimum number of years required rather than general risk-based detention.

How many IPP prisoners remain in the UK?

As of 2022, official statistics estimate between 1,500 and 2,000 IPP prisoners continue to be detained past their original tariff terms with no release date.

What types of crimes originally received IPP sentences?

They were mainly applied to violent and sexual offenses like rape, violent assault, robbery, kidnapping, manslaughter, etc. But many lower-risk individuals received IPPs as well.

Are IPP prisoners eligible for parole at any point?

Yes, IPP prisoners can have parole hearings after their minimum tariff is served. However, parole approval rates remained extremely low for many years after IPP introduction.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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