The nightmare continues
As one of 6,000 or more IPP prisoners, Mark Banner wants answers and advice on how to get out of the IPP black hole
I am an IPP prisoner with a 2½ year ‘tariff’. I have been in prison for five years and eight months. I’ve always accepted that I deserved a prison sentence but what I and other IPPs and their families don’t deserve is continuing mental torture and a life where the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ moves two steps away for every one that I take towards it.
A brief history of my sentence then: I went to my first Parole Hearing after three years with a completed sentence plan and with a recommendation for release by OMU, external probation and psychology. I received the maximum two year knockback! I recently went to my second Parole hearing after five years and seven months inside. I was recommended for release by OMU, external probation, psychology and an independent psychologist with a CV the size of war and peace. My solicitor was confident that I would get, at the very least, open conditions. Another knockback! I’m still awaiting the length. By the way, all through my sentence my prison reports have been glowing. I have been a Listener, an Insider, Wing Rep, Canteen Rep, I induct new prisoners, I’m a classroom assistant and I’m doing a degree. I had also, on legal advice, appealed the severity of my sentence. My barrister, who undertook the costs, believed that the length of my sentence was ‘manifestly excessive’ and that I shouldn’t have received an IPP. Despite similar and more serious cases not receiving IPPs my appeal failed. My grandmother recently died and my father has a serious illness. In the last year one IPP on my landing committed suicide and I found one (an otherwise fit forty year old) dead in his cell of a heart attack. I suffer from hypertension and have been getting stress attacks for the last month or so.
As the House of Lords ‘bottled it’ by not changing the release criteria for IPPs I, and other IPPs, face the almost impossible task of convincing a negative focused Parole board that I’m ready for release or open conditions.
Can anyone tell me how I’m supposed to remain ‘focused’ and ‘positive’ about the future? Parole Boards only listen to OMU, probation and psychology when they are being negative, positives are virtually ignored. There is always a reason to say no, there is always a course that a prisoner would ‘benefit from’. If the Government suddenly banned guns because they are dangerous would they allow those that already had them to keep them? No. So why, when they are allegedly scrapping the IPP sentence are we still subjected to its inhumane unfairness?
We have all (or most of us) committed offences and I’m genuinely loathed to paint myself as a ‘victim’. If I hadn’t committed the crime I wouldn’t have been imprisoned in the first place, obviously we all accept that. But, unfortunately, very few of the 6000+ IPPs deserved this inhumane and soul destroying, unfair sentence.
Does anyone, anywhere, have any answers or advice that doesn’t include the words: ‘keep your chin up’?
The Parole Board are keen to stress that they act in the public interest (more specifically the press). Fine, that is commendable, if obvious, but it is only part of the story. However, by using this as the default answer for constant knockbacks all they are achieving is to create a large portion of the prison population that are little more than burned out basket cases. The longer anyone stays in prison the harder it becomes to function as a ‘normal’ human being. It is the worst kind of Catch 22.
After months of debate in the Lords nothing tangible has been done to give IPPs any hope of re-entering society. Facilitating even more courses is largely ineffective because even if you’ve done them the Parole Board still won’t let you out. There’s always another course around the corner. Never mind that someone might have lived 95% of their lives decently and offence free they are pretty much given up on as a lost cause. Logic and reason are foreign concepts.
I spent 1½ years on bail whilst admitting my guilt. The police, a magistrate and a Crown Court judge all felt that I was not too ‘dangerous’ to be in the community, yet the sentencing judge did.
I know that I’ve dwelled a fair bit on my own situation and I make no apologies for that. But there are 6000+ of us in the same black hole. I’ll end with these points:
1. Sentencing is widely and widely inconsistent. A huge amount of prisoners have received IPPs while a huge amount committing the same, similar or more serious offences have received lesser, determinate sentences (it helps if you are a civil servant).
2. Even though all the agencies dealing with a prisoner now and in the future confidently agree that you can be safely ‘managed’ in the community, three negatively focused strangers say no virtually every time.
3. There is a well established ‘obsession’ with courses. And because we can never know if a prisoner will re-offend or not without courses, it is logically impossible to claim that courses work. Indeed there is evidence that they don’t. If I gave a friend a biscuit and told him it was a cure for cancer and he died at 96 of natural causes, what would people say if I said to them ‘See, I told you it would work!’
4. Finally, prisoners/criminal/offenders are HUMAN BEINGS (contrary to popular and press belief). The IPP sentence treats prisoners and their families with contempt and serves no genuinely rehabilitative purpose. It should be consigned, totally, to the dustbin of history …. . for all our sakes.
Mark Banner is currently resident at HMP Stafford