Prisoners ‘should not have to prove they are safe to release’, says Parole Board chair

<b><i>Professor Nick Hardwick: Plan will <br>'help reduce prison overcrowding'</b></i>

Professor Nick Hardwick: Plan will
‘help reduce prison overcrowding’

New Justice Secretary Liz Truss has been urged to help “release the pressure valve” on Britain’s overburdened prison system with a change in test criteria for those detained on indeterminate sentences.

Parole Board chairman, Professor Nick Hardwick, says prisoners who have completed their minimum sentence should not have to prove it is safe to release them before leaving jail.

He believes that inmates on Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences — originally introduced by the Labour government in 2003 — are “festering” in prison because they cannot meet the requirements of proving they no longer pose a danger to the public.

It was originally estimated that 900 serious violent and sexual offenders would be subject to them but, instead, the number swelled to 6,000, some for relatively minor offences.

Professor Hardwick, who took over as chairman in March, said releasing such prisoners will contribute to reducing overcrowding in prisons in England and Wales.

Ken Clarke abolished the indeterminate sentences for IPPs as Justice Secretary in 2012, calling them a “stain” on the justice system after the European Court of Human Rights ruled they were “arbitrary and unlawful”.

But in March this year, 4,133 remained imprisoned — the majority of whom had been convicted of “violence against the person”, sexual offences or robbery. About 80 per cent of those — 3,347 — had already served their minimum term but were still locked up.

Ministry of Justice figures show more than 500 IPP prisoners given tariffs of less than two years were still in prison five or more years later.

Professor Hardwick said that procedural delays, problems accessing offending behaviour courses and finding suitable accommodation meant prisoners found it difficult to meet the threshold.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Hardwick called on Ms Truss to change the test as “an effective way of reducing some of the pressure on prison system”.

He added: “More than that it is a blot on the system. It is a real problem if people are in prison not because of what they have done but because of what they might do.

“It caught a lot more people than was originally intended. That’s why Parliament abolished the sentence a few years ago.”

But he cautioned against releasing every prisoner on an IPP being released. He said: “You need to proceed carefully on this, because there are some prisoners who have got an IPP sentence who very plainly represent a real risk to the safety of the public.

“But there is legislation on the books that would enable the Secretary of State to change that test.”

Professor Hardwick, one-time chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, said there were three categories of IPP inmate who would benefit most: Those on very short tariffs but still in custody; prisoners held beyond the maximum sentence for the offence they had committed; and offenders who were too frail or elderly to pose a danger.