Victims and Prisoners Bill

Written evidence submitted by Lorna Hackett, Barrister, Head of Legal Practice at Hackett & Dabbs LLP and a tenant at Millennium Chambers (VPB08)

Dear Chair,

Submission to the Victims and Prisoners Bill Public Bill Committee: Proposal for an advocate programme for prisoners subject to imprisonment for public protection

1. I am a barrister of 20 years’ call (currently Head of Legal Practice at Hackett & Dabbs LLP and a tenant at Millennium Chambers). Since 2010 I have taken a particular interest in the plight of IPP prisoners and have advised and represented countless individuals serving DPP (Detention for Public Protection) and IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection). These indeterminate sentences were introduced under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and were given to offenders who were deemed dangerous by virtue of their conviction. The indeterminate nature of the sentence placed the onus on the offender to prove that they were no longer a risk to the public before being able to secure release on licence via the Parole Board of England and Wales. Although the sentence was abolished in 2012, thousands of people who are subject to this sentence remain in prison in 2023, significantly beyond the time envisaged by the sentencing judge.

2. I am currently working with a group of IPP prisoners at a Category C establishment, some of whom have been in custody for 18 years. Others have been recalled after a lengthy period of time in the community, and yet others have been recalled on three or more occasions. These men have volunteered their experiences, and offered suggestions as to how they could best be supported before and during the parole process, as well as once in the community to avoid recall. The introduction of an IPP Advocate, as set out in this submission, would go a significant way towards assisting them to succeed as the valuable members of society they so desire to be.

3. In short, serving and recalled IPP prisoners need help to prepare a fully formulated Release Plan. They need help inside prison to prepare this, and support in its implementation in the community. To this end, I propose the introduction of IPP Advocates who would work both in prison and in the community. A fully formulated Release Plan will not only equip these prisoners with the tools to be able to succeed in society – but also help them to be able to present themselves more favourably and confidently to the Parole Board.

4. When mandatory lifers are nearing the end of their tariff, they have – for obvious reasons – had significant amounts of time to prepare for their eventual release. Those who are articulate enough to do so often produce their own comprehensive Release Plans. These anticipate their plans for their time on licence, what they will do once in the approved premise, how to keep themselves occupied, their proposed employment, managing finances, voluntary work, preparation of a CV, what they will do socially, community groups they can access, therapy, medical or mental health support, and – importantly – the people they will contact should they need help with anything in particular, and who they will go to and what they will do when things go wrong. These plans are completed with their anticipated licence conditions in mind, with due consideration of the risk factors which are pertinent to past offending (such as avoiding old associates, abstaining from drink or drugs, trying to avoid getting into financial difficulty, etc.)

5. The stark contrast with IPP prisoners is that as they are usually so excessively over-tariff, they have lost all hope of even considering such an exercise. IPP prisoners need to be able to develop some internal means of support to be able to help themselves once in the community. IPP prisoners are in practical terms as well as emotionally far less able to envisage their future lives in any type of detail, if at all. The prospect of trying to formulate a Release Plan is, for them, a painful exercise in futility. There are, however, practical steps which could be taken to help to reduce the impact of coming out to a world very different from that which they left many years ago, as well as for those who have been returned to custody. For those prisoners who have been released, the IPP Advocate would help them to implement their Release Plan and be available to provide practical support, whilst sharing information to the Community Offender Manager (COMs) about the released prisoner’s needs.

6. If a long term IPP prisoner is released for the first time (or a subsequent time having been recalled) they are often inherently damaged by their custodial experience and detached from societal norms. If the work on a Release Plan could be done with each IPP prisoner to help to prepare them in advance of their release or re-release, I truly believe that this may not only strengthen their prospects of a successful reintegration into life in the community, but also to help prevent a significant number of recalls to prison. Many of the unfortunate situations in which IPPs on licence find themselves would simply not occur, meaning that their risk of recall is significantly reduced.

7. To facilitate this, I would propose the creation of IPP Advocates who are resourced to be able to work with each IPP prisoner in custody, as well as in the community. An IPP Advocate (with a corresponding Policy Framework) would be resourced to get to know each IPP prisoner/ offender on licence, to understand their needs, their risks, their victim issues and their protective factors. They would help the prisoner to envisage their individual Release Plan which could then form part of the parole dossier, and to help them to reintegrate into the community once on licence. This is not something which prison lawyers are resourced to do (and in any event it is not legal advice per se) nor do COMs or Prison Offender Managers (POMs) have anything like the capacity to spend such time on individual cases.

8. Whilst the role of COMs is to set out in written format (by way of reports which are placed in the parole dossier) the Risk Management Plan, this is by its nature an exercise in public protection. Beyond release to an approved premises, rehabilitation accommodation or another approved address, there is much less emphasis on the practical needs of the offender. Whilst like other offenders IPPs being released into the community need to have housing, and access to NHS services, there is no provision for therapeutic support in the community to help them to transition successfully from their lengthy time in prison. It is suggested that this should be offered to all IPP prisoners released into the community, whether for the first time or after having been recalled. This should not be part of their licence conditions and should be voluntary. Additional funding in the community should be made available for these prisoners who will each have differing levels of need.

9. The IPP Advocate could also be available to sit alongside the prisoner during the parole hearing. Many parole hearings are held via video link (CVP) which means in practice that their legal representative also appears remotely. Much like a McKenzie friend, the IPP Advocate could accompany the prisoner in person to the hearing, offering support and helping them through the CVP parole process. If so requested, the IPP Advocate could be permitted to give evidence to the Parole Board about the Release Plan. For the avoidance of doubt, it is not intended that they should be asked to provide any recommendations to the Board nor to advise the prisoner as a legal representative.

10. There are myriad examples of non-governmental organisations around the country which are dedicated to assisting former prisoners in their transition into the community. Often, these organisations are not necessarily well-known either to prisoners, their families, or their COMs. An IPP Advocate would have access to these organisations and a relationship with them, which would be fed into the particular IPP prisoner’s Release Plan. A bespoke plan would be tailored for each IPP prisoner, taking into account geographical location, job opportunities, family and other support, mental health and physical needs, culture and religion, in conjunction with the proposed licence conditions and risk management plan as set out in the COM’s report and OASys assessment. The IPP Advocate in prison could assist the IPP prisoner to establish communication with relevant organisations, and to build relationships with them.

11. Once the prisoner is released in the community, the IPP Advocate could assist with implementing the Release Plan. Given that the prisons are at capacity, it is in everyone’s interests that those who could reasonably avoid recall with such tailored assistance are fully supported in order successfully to reintegrate into the community. In essence, the creation of IPP Advocates would pay for themselves in that fewer prison places would be taken up by these individuals.

12. Whether IPP prisoners are ultimately to be re-sentenced or not a bespoke Release Plan will put them in a stronger mental and emotional position before their parole board hearing, will present a significantly more persuasive case during the hearing and - all being well – act as a blueprint for successful integration once they are returned to the community.

If the Committee would be interested in following up on this proposal, I would be happy to give evidence and provide a draft clause which could be included in the Bill.

Yours sincerely

Lorna Hackett

12th June 2023


Prepared 20th June 2023