Associate Professor Harry Annison and Senior Research Assistant Christina Straub from the University of Southampton have been leading a research project in collaboration with Prison Reform Trust on the views of families of people serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences. In this blog they discuss the project and its final report, considering the relevant findings for voluntary sector organisations.
It is now seven years since the indeterminate sentence of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) was abolished by a Justice Secretary who had accepted that it was flawed in principle and unworkable in practice. However, for the over 8,000 individuals sentenced to IPP, this sentence remained in place. While many have now been released on licence (which, by default, remains for life), approximately 3,400 IPP prisoners remain incarcerated: 2,200 who have never been released and a further 1,200 who have been recalled to prison. The most recent statistics show that in the past 12 months (to 30 June 2019), more IPP prisoners were returned to custody after licence recall than were released; the first time that this has happened.
We have recently published A Helping Hand, a collaborative project with the Prison Reform Trust to understand the views of families of people serving IPP sentences. We developed this project for two reasons: first, notwithstanding the range of important reports published on IPP; families’ experiences had remained under-explored. Second, we considered that the growing attention in England and Wales on the positive role that families often play in rehabilitation – and the need for institutional support for this – would benefit from a considered examination of the specific issues that face IPP prisoners and their relatives.
This project sought to engage in a spirit of co-production with families of people serving IPPs, operating through a series of workshops, interviews, surveys and informal ongoing dialogue. Our work built on an earlier empirical study conducted by Harry Annison with Rachel Condry, which had begun to examine the ‘pains of imprisonment’ experienced by families of IPP prisoners. These findings showed many family members to be negatively impacted by feelings of injustice and uncertainty, hope and hopelessness.
This project sought to examine in greater detail what could be done by relevant organisations to enable families to support their relative to achieve successful resettlement. We focus here on findings related to the role of voluntary sector organisations.
Findings and recommendations
Most of our participants reported making little use of services provided by voluntary sector organisations. They preferred to keep a small circle of confidantes and to look to their own family for support. Reasons for that revolved mainly around a perceived lack of signposting towards relevant organisations and a belief that they would not necessarily be able to help with IPP-specific issues. Families expressed the need, ideally, for a specialised, comprehensive support system (including mental health support) dedicated solely to IPP and its impact.
They furthermore saw value in the development of regional and/or national peer support networks. In their opinion, sharing thoughts and concerns in a small group of like-minded individuals could alleviate distress through ‘being received’ and understood.
In our final report we identify a number of valuable actions that could be taken, relating to voluntary sector organisations. At the same time, we must emphasize that these organisations (of course) have no responsibility for the original creation of the IPP sentence, and that the provision of any support would – of course –require appropriate resourcing.
Families saw great value in there being a ‘Families of People Serving IPP’ webpage, i.e. some sort of ‘one stop shop’. This would bring together – or provide links to – sources of information about IPP policies and processes. It may be the case that a relevant voluntary sector organisation is best placed to host such a set of resources. Developing guidance documents for staff and volunteers who provide support to families of those sentenced to IPP could also be valuable. We have already spoken with some organisations about these two recommendations, and hope to take it forward over the coming months.
We furthermore argue that the involvement of voluntary sector organisations in the facilitation of local peer support groups for family members of people serving IPPs, could help to manage and alleviate their pains and concerns considerably. Of course, resource considerations are relevant here.
We welcome the progress that has been made over recent years by organisations across the board to address the legacy of the IPP sentence. For example, the HMPPS ‘IPP Action Group’ has taken concrete actions that have resulted in some positive outcomes. There is, however, still more that must be done; not least when it comes to funding family services provided by relevant voluntary organisations. We intend our report to be one means by which to continue to engage with relevant organisations to explore steps towards enabling families to support the resettlement of people serving IPP sentences. The history of the sentence, the recognition by the government of its problematic history, and the growing recognition of the state’s general obligations to families affected by the criminal justice system, requires nothing less.
Photo credit: Andy Aitchison