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The Pains of Indeterminate Imprisonment for Families: Changing Policy and Informing Practice

The Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence has been fraught with issues and tragedies since it was introduced in 2005. It was abolished in 2012 – but only prospectively, leaving thousands of people serving a discredited sentence.

Dr Harry Annison has researched and raised the profile of the ongoing issues, bringing invaluable support for the families of IPP prisoners whose experiences and views had been ignored.



Helping hand for families

The controversial Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence was implemented in 2005, the first legislation targeted explicitly at ‘dangerous offenders’, imprisoning them indefinitely on the basis of their possible future offending. It resulted in many people serving sentences much longer than their tariff, with often-tragic consequences as self-harm and suicide among IPP prisoners is high.

2012 saw the abolition of IPP, but only for future sentencing – not retrospectively. So 3,400 IPP prisoners remain incarcerated, 1,400 of whom have been released and then recalled.

Dr Harry Annison has devoted his work to raising awareness of the ongoing issues experienced by people sentenced to IPP and their families.


Research challenge

In 2017-2018 Dr Annison led a project to understand families’ experiences of the IPP sentence. Issues that arose included a sense of injustice for families, uncertainty and a lack of hope, and that the release from prison for their relative brought little relief due to the constant fear of recall.

Dr Annison secured funding from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to enable a collaborative project with the Prison Reform Trust, working with families of IPP prisoners to identify specific issues and potential solutions.

The resulting report, A Helping Hand, set out detailed findings and recommendations in relation to the prison service, probation service, Parole Board, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) psychology, and voluntary sector organisations that support prisoners and their families.

Through collaborations forged at a parliamentary launch events of the projects findings, Dr Annison went on to develop influential publications and activities with key stakeholders including the Parole Board for England and Wales, HMPPS, and several charities.

Working with the Parole Board for England and Wales

The Parole Board published Information for Families or Friends of Prisoners Having a Parole Review in August 2020. This includes sections targeted specifically at indeterminate-sentenced prisoners.

In October 2020 a new supplementary information sheet on the experiences of families of people serving IPP was made available to Parole Board members as part of a wider updating of member guidance. The Parole Board also published guidance for people sentenced to IPP on applying to terminate their licence.

The Parole Board stated that the research “provided a clear message about the gap in information for families and friends about parole, and [identified] where something could be developed…that could make quite a difference to a lot of people”.

Working with HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)


ESRC logo

Informed by A Helping Hand, the HMPPS staff training course, ‘Life Sentenced and IPP Prisoners’, was updated in 2020. HMPPS considered the changes to staff training as “particularly important in light of the concern mentioned in the ‘A Helping Hand’ report about lack of awareness of IPP by many staff, particularly in prisons, where staff turnover/movements can be high.”

Additionally, in collaboration with Dr Annison, ‘A guide for the families & significant others of those serving Indeterminate Sentences in prisons’ is due for publication by HMPPS following COVID-19 related delays. This revised guidance was published in June 2021.

Working with Charities

In July 2020, Spurgeons Children’s Charity, in collaboration with Dr Annison, published Offering a Helping Hand: Resources and guidance for families and others supporting people serving IPP. This serves as a useful tool for practitioners and volunteers supporting families affected by IPP, and has supported the charity’s award-winning Invisible Walls initiative at HMP Winchester. It has also been distributed to staff at the Prisoners’ Families Helpline run by Pact, a UK charity supporting parents and children affected by criminal justice.


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