The IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection) sentence was abolished in 2012.  However, those who remain subject to incarceration under the provisions of this sentence will be more than aware of the difficulties encountered in securing progression or release for various reasons such as Parole Board delays, limited resources, poor procedures for managing risk and a lack of available places on offending behaviour programmes.  This has meant that many IPP prisoners are held for years beyond their original tariff.

Statistics show that there are just under 4,000 people are in custody still serving an IPP sentence despite the sentence being abolished and that four out of every five IPP prisoners are still in custody despite having served their minimum term.

Release can only be secured as a result of a Parole Board direction.  However, for those who have secured release there is still a fear that they can be returned to prison at a moment’s notice if they reoffend or breach the conditions of their licence, potentially resulting in a further substantial period in custody.

This has seen numerous calls for the procedure in dealing with IPP sentence prisoners to be reformed, and in November 2016 the Parole Board rules were finally amended.

Previous procedure for release of IPP

A single member of the Parole Board (Member Case Assessment or “MCA”) would consider each case initially on the papers and make a decision as to what should happen next. Prior to 22nd November 2016 the Parole Board did not have power to direct an IPP prisoner’s release on the papers. They simply had two options available to them; 1) conclude that the Prisoner was unsuitable for release or; 2) direct the matter to an Oral Hearing. The Parole Board experience significant delays when listing hearings, and this process would have undoubtedly contributed.


On 22nd November 2016 the Parole Board Rules were reformed and in particular the process for IPP Prisoner’s has been amended. This now means that the Parole Board have the power at the initial stages to direct an IPP Prisoner’s release on the papers without the necessity of an Oral Hearing.

This could mean that there will be potential for IPP prisoners to have their reviews concluded far quicker than under the old rules, because release can be directed on the papers and also because the new decision should mean that the delays in Oral Hearings being listed should reduce in the future.

There is of course no guarantee that the Parole Board will release an IPP prisoner on the papers. More complex cases will likely still proceed to an Oral Hearing. However, it is envisaged that the reforms will assist those IPP prisoners who have been subject to a technical breach of their licence following their release into the community, and where release application is more straightforward.

The 2016 Rules are not retrospective and this therefore means that they will only apply to cases referred to the Parole Board after the 22nd November 2016.

The Parole Board will release an offender only if it is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public for the offender to be confined.

How can we assist?

To achieve the best change of securing release, a prisoner will need to demonstrate that their risk is manageable in the community. This can be achieved by the completion of specific courses aimed at addressing risk factors, and by being proactive and speaking with Offender Supervisors about course attendance. It is also important to engage with Offender Managers and Supervisors, and to demonstrate compliance within the custodial setting.

With these reforms it is now more important than ever to submit representations at the initial stages when the matter is considered by the single member of the Parole Board.  These representations can outline the work undertaken to reduce risk, and advocate release on the papers.

We have a specialist Prison Law Team who can assist with this process, and we urge you to contact us as soon as a review commences in order to save the delays that may be experienced by many prisoners in obtaining release by way of an oral hearing.

For more information, or to speak to one of our specialist lawyers about any issue relating to Prison law or prisoner assistance, please contact Matthew Smith or Nicola Maynard or alternatively call us on 0333 240 7373 and ask to speak to a member of the prison law team.