13 July 2023

In 2003, Parliament’s Criminal and Justice Act introduced the ‘Imprisonment for Public Protection’ (IPP), an indeterminate sentence in which a person is detained in prison for a potentially unlimited period of time.

Earlier this month, UNGRIPP, an organisation campaigning for all those affected by the sentence, staged an exhibition encompassing photography, poetry, visual art and testimony from people serving IPP sentences and their families in the place where it all began: parliament.

The ornate and stately surroundings of parliament directly contrasted the hard-hitting nature of the exhibition.

The statistics on display at the exhibition lay bare the injustices of the sentence. Despite the sentence being abolished for people convicted on or after 3 December 2012, 2,916 people already sentenced to an IPP continue to serve the sentence, which has since been described as the ‘single greatest stain on our criminal justice system’.

A sea of white dots cascade across the black screens, with each dot representing each person still imprisoned on an IPP sentence. The red dots represent those who took their own lives.

INQUEST has repeatedly documented the undeniable link between the IPP sentence, hopelessness, self-harm and suicide. INQUEST has assisted bereaved families of 30 people on IPP who died in prison between 2008 – 2022. Twenty-five of those who died took their own life.

Tommy Nicol is one of the 25 people who took their own life on an IPP sentence. He died in 2015, two years over his minimum tariff with no hope of being released. He described the IPP sentence as the ‘psychological torture of a person who is doing 99 years’.

A consultant forensic psychiatrist at the inquest gave evidence that the IPP sentence contributed to Tommy’s death ‘more than anything else’ as it made him ‘lose hope’. Tommy’s sister, Donna Mooney, has since become a vocal campaigner against the IPP sentence with UNGRIPP.

The photography by Andy Aitchison exposes the horror the sentence inflicts on the people imprisoned, as well as their families and communities more broadly.

The photographs serve as vignette of the lives stolen, time lost, and lives indelibly marked by IPP, whilst the poetry by those imprisoned articulate the profound pain and suffering experienced first-hand.

A poem by Joe Outlaw captures the sense of decay that accompanies an IPP:

Reflection staring back at me, I do not recognise.

Sunken cheeks, ashen skin and weary, tired eyes.

My body fails me nowadays, my strength is in the past.

The years I’ve spent in prison may also be my last.

My family growing older and some now passed away.

This sentence has deprived me of much more than I can say.

In February the Government rejected the Justice Committee’s recommendation to resentence all IPP prisoners. UNGRIPP continues to campaign for a resentencing project, which could potentially happen if an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill is successful.

UNGRIPP are asking for people to write to their MP to build public pressure against the IPP sentence. Significantly, the Bill also represents an opportunity to abolish the IPP sentence retrospectively – UNGRIPP’s principle campaign demand.

Photo © Andy Aitchison