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Helping families affected by Imprisonment for Public Protection sentencing

Published: 2 February 2022

A report, co-authored by Southampton law professor Dr Harry Annison, outlines how correctional bodies can help the families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences.

Imprisonment for Public Protection was a type of indeterminate sentencing introduced with the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Although offenders were given a minimum amount of time to spend in prison - a tariff - they did not receive a maximum tariff.

This type of sentence can leave them not knowing how and when they'll be released. Offenders are also placed on license indefinitely when they are released and can only have their license removed after 10 years.

IPP sentencing was scrapped in 2012 but it wasn't applied retrospectively so there are still many prisoners serving them. 

As part of the ‘A Helping Hand’ report, Harry collaborated on a set of recommendations. They help loved ones deal with the challenges of supporting a relative through an IPP sentence.

The report recommended the need for:

  • clearer information
  • consistent communication
  • support for families
  • recognition of the history and legacy of IPP sentencing
Family relationships are often very disrupted. Negative health effects caused by the stress and anxiety of the experience were often reported.
Associate Professor in Criminal Law

Informing policy and practice

The report has been circulated to every prison in England and Wales and key stakeholders in the sector.

The Parole Board have made changes to practice which directly draw on Harry's research, including:

  • sections targeted at indeterminate-sentenced prisoners in their parole review guidance
  • updated Parole Board members guidance on the experiences of families of people serving IPP
  • guidance for people sentenced to IPP on applying to terminate their licence

HM Prison and Probation Service have also updated their practice, including:

In the voluntary sector, Harry worked with children's charity Spurgeons to develop a booklet for practitioners and volunteers to support families of IPP prisoners.

The guidance has also been circulated to staff at the Prisoners’ Families Helpline run by Pact, a UK charity supporting parents and children affected by criminal justice.

Easing the burden for families

The report’s research is co-funded by the Prison Reform Trust and the Economic and Social Research Council. Its findings are based on detailed consultation with the families of IPP prisoners as well as close engagement with criminal justice and voluntary sector organisations.

Harry believes that all criminal justice organisations should try to avoid placing extra burdens on the people who have often given years of devoted support to their relative.

“More information, guidance and support for families, and actions to reduce some of the pains they experience, would help to ease their burden. It can help them to better support their loved ones in prison and on release.”

Dr Harry Annison

Hear Harry talking about his work on series 2 of our Universi-Tea podcast.

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