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The University of Southampton

New guide is ’important step’ to supporting the loved ones of UK prisoners serving indeterminate sentences

Published: 22 June 2021
Prisoner hugging loved one
A new guide provides support for loved ones of prisoners on indeterminate sentences.

A University of Southampton law academic has welcomed the publication of a new guide for the families and significant others of those serving ‘indeterminate sentences’ in UK prisons as an ‘important step forward’.

The guide, published by the UK government’s Ministry for Justice, provides a better understanding of some of the key processes that affect indeterminate sentenced prisoners. It also signposts readers to further information about relevant processes and topics, and suggests how relatives and significant others can become involved in supporting their loved ones’ progress and gain support or advice where needed.

Dr Harry Annison , Associate Professor in Criminal Law and Criminology at Southampton Law School, University of Southampton, believes that this is an important development in recognising the ongoing needs of families of people serving indeterminate sentences, and in particular those serving the discredited Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence. Dr Annison has spent over a decade studying the controversial IPP indeterminate sentence introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

On its website, the Ministry of Justice acknowledges that the new guide builds on the joint Prison Reform Trust and University of Southampton report, A Helping Hand: Supporting Families in the Resettlement of People Serving IPPs , published in 2019 and authored by Dr Annison and Dr Christina Straub, a former Senior Research Assistant at Southampton. The Ministry also complements the joint publication Offering a Helping Hand , released in 2020 by children’s charity Spurgeons and Southampton Law School that draws on collaborative work by Dr Annison with families of people serving sentences of IPP.

“This new guide is a welcome step forward by the UK government in recognising that many prisoners issued with an IPP sentence, as well as their families and other supporters, remain in need of considerable support,” says Dr Annison. “Hopefully the guide will help families and supporters to engage with a system that can seem obscure and exclusionary. It also emphasises that IPP prisoners, and their families, are not forgotten even though it can often feel like this is the case.”

Within five years of the abolition of IPPs, informed observers knew that significant problems remained with the sentence. Dr Annison says it was clear that, despite the efforts of a range of academics and organisations, there were gaps in their knowledge with relatively little known about the needs and experiences of families of people serving an IPP.

“The needs of these families are important in their own right,” Dr Annison states, “but increased recognition of the role of families in resettlement makes clear that their needs should be an important consideration for anyone seeking to ameliorate the difficulties faced by people serving IPP and to help them to achieve release and sustainable resettlement.

“While indeterminate sentences, protecting the public from ‘the dangerous’, may seem intuitively attractive, the government, the courts and a range of charities have recognised the significant problems with the IPP sentence. In practice, the sentence caught up a great deal of people – often young men – in its net, placing them in a prison system which is under-resourced, under-staffed, and liable to exacerbate mental health issues.”

“Proving to the Parole Board that you are safe to release, in this context, can be a significant challenge. This often causes great strain for families, which I am pleased this new guide recognises. There is a great deal more to be done, but this is a very welcome step.”

A Guide for the Families and Significant Others of Those Serving Indeterminate Sentences is free to download from the Ministry of Justice website.

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