What’s Fueling the Rise in Self-Inflicted Deaths Among IPP Prisoners?

September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a global effort to prevent suicides and raise awareness. Against this backdrop, last year’s record high increase in self-inflicted deaths among prisoners with indeterminate sentences left many deeply troubled and concerned. The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) has now released Learning Lessons on this topic.

What is an IPP sentence?

In 2005, Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences were established for individuals deemed a public risk, but whose offense did not warrant a life sentence. These sentences were indeterminate, meaning they do not have a fixed or specific release date. Instead, people were given "prison tariff" dates, indicating the minimum duration to be spent in prison before becoming eligible for parole or release. The actual release was contingent on a Parole Board's assessment of no longer posing a threat to the public.

In 2012, the government found that the IPP sentence was “not defensible”, leading to its discontinuance, but the change was not applied retrospectively. As of 30 June of this year, 2,909 IPP prisoners continue to serve indeterminate sentences. People serving this type of sentence continue to suffer higher rates of self-harm and suicidal behaviour than the remaining prison population due to the extreme uncertainty attached to the IPP sentence.

What are the main takeaways from the PPO report?

The PPO authored a report, highlighting the following factors which played a critical role in contributing to self-inflicted deaths:

  1. ACCT management: Assessment, Care in Custody, and Teamwork (ACCT), a system used by prisons to monitor and support prisoners who are at risk of self-harm or suicide, was only activated for 5 of the 19 self-inflicted deaths reviewed at the time of their death.
  2. Sentence progression: Participation in offending behaviour programmes is crucial for IPP prisoners to demonstrate their risk has reduced to a level where it can be managed in the community. The PPO found there were insufficient opportunities to participate in such programs, increasing a sense of hopelessness about when the prison term may end.
  3. Recall: IPP prisoners, upon being recalled to prison, confront renewed uncertainty about the length of the sentence and potential release. This cycle can create significant stress and uncertainty for prisoners and may hinder their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
  4. Key work scheme: Under the key work scheme, every male prisoner should have a dedicated prison officer key worker with whom they have weekly 1-1 contact. The PPO determined that this program did not function as expected in some prisons.

UN Torture expert calls for urgent review of IPP Sentences

UN torture expert, Alice Jill Edwards, has urged the UK Government to conduct an immediate review of people serving sentences under the discredited IPP system. Edwards expressed concern over the severe psychological harm experienced by these prisoners, including high rates of self-harm, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and actual suicides. She warns that the continuation of IPP sentences after its abolition is violating principles of fair justice and the rule of law.

In the face of this alarming rise in self-inflicted deaths among IPP prisoners, there is a pressing need for prisons and authorities to reevaluate their approach. Addressing the challenges faced by IPP prisoners and safeguarding their mental well-being remains a critical imperative in order to avoid further deaths in custody.

The Human Rights Department at Saunders Law offers expert legal assistance and representation in civil claims against the prisons, police and other government authorities. We also have extensive experience in inquest work and take thorough approach to complex cases.

For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion to see if we might be able to help, please contact us on 02076324300 or make an enquiry online.


    How can we help?

    Please fill in the form and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can

    We have partnered with Law Share from JMW Solicitors LLP to refer instructions and clients to them, when we are unable to act. By answering yes to this question, you agree that we may pass your details on to Law Share in such circumstances. You are under no obligation to instruct JMW Solicitors LLP after being referred. We may receive a payment from JMW Solicitors LLP further to this referral.