National Offender Management Service: Indeterminate Sentences
Asked by Lord Ramsbotham
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress the National Offender Management Service prisoner co-ordination group is making in preparing individual release plans for those serving Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection.
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The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the role of the indeterminate sentence prisoners co-ordination group is not to prepare individual release plans. It is for the prisoner’s offender supervisor and offender manager to draw up a sentence plan to assess the prisoner’s risk factors and then to propose a risk management plan to the Parole Board once the prisoner has completed his tariff.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The problem is that 6,500 prisoners are serving indeterminate sentences, with 3,500 over their tariff and 311 more than four years over it. The problem was put into sharp relief last week at an inquest in south Wales into the death of an indeterminate sentence prisoner who was a year over his tariff. Two weeks before he took his own life he was told at the prison to which he had just been moved that not only was the course that the Parole Board required him to complete before release not available in that prison, he was told that no such course would be available for two to three years. This problem needs to be tackled with urgency. Whether I have the name of the board right or not, I hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that someone in NOMS is tackling individual problems with urgency.
Lord McNally: As I explained in my original reply, there is an individual case manager for each prisoner. However, I understand the noble Lord’s point. One of the original criticisms of this method of sentencing was that it created a Catch-22 whereby although you have to carry out a range of courses in order to make yourself available for parole and to convince the Parole Board that you are ready for release, those courses are not always available. Part of the reform programme that we have put in place, in parallel to the changes in the LASPO Act, is to try to make sure that prisoners are able to undertake reform training, and also to give the Parole Board greater flexibility in making its judgments on whether other aspects, rather than specific training programmes, can be taken into account in order to justify freedom. It is a difficult and delicate business. We are dealing with people who are in prison for serious offences and there must be a proper process to assess whether they should be allowed to go back into the community.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, the Government were right to abolish IPP sentences-they were bad for the criminal justice system and bad for the prisons. As has been said, more than 6,000 inmates are currently in our prisons under IPP. If there is such a considerable delay in providing offender reform courses for inmates, could not the Prison Service use volunteers to help deal with it? Many prisoners also often find that despite assurances from the Parole Board about open conditions and release, the Prison Service is not meeting those assurances.
Lord McNally: That is why, in answering the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I referred to the fact that the Parole Board can now take into account other aspects of prisoner activity that might contribute to the assessment of whether prisoners can be safely released. We are also making sure that there is much
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more co-ordination of the policy so that there is an understanding in the various prisons of what is available and so that much greater use is made of compulsory intervention plans. However, it is a difficult problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, there is a build-up of more than 6,500 prisoners on IPP sentences, and it will take time to unwind the system. We are unwinding it, and more prisoners are being released after proper assessment. However, we cannot simply release prisoners who have received such a sentence because of the severity of their crime or the assessment that they are a long-term danger to the public.
Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, the noble Lord has clearly taken on board that this is a very serious question for those who are beyond their tariff. Can he give any indication of when the Parole Board is likely to see them? Can he suggest whether there is not some way that those who have committed less serious crimes could be released by some form of executive action?
Lord McNally: The LASPO Act provides for the possibility of executive action on this matter and for a change in the balance of judgment to be made by the Parole Board. For the moment the Government are waiting to see the impact on overall numbers of the new systems that we have put in place. About twice as many IPP prisoners are being released now than were released two years ago, but we are also facing the problem that judges are still imposing IPPs. I believe that we will have the first net reduction this year, with more people being released than are coming in under the new system. We hope to be able to announce later this year when the new sentencing system included in the LASPO Act will be introduced.