Aug 12, 2019 by Foresight

The Impact of Indeterminate Prison Sentences on Inmate Mental Health

Indeterminate sentences for Public Protection (IPP) are a pivotal factor in the rise of mental health problems among prison inmates. In recent weeks, several high profile cases of offenders remaining in prison for years beyond their original tariff have brought to light the devastating effects of these sentences on prisoner wellbeing. Five years after new indeterminate sentences were abolished, 3000 prisoners still do not have a release date in sight and more prisoners than ever are suffering from mental health problems.

What are Indeterminate Sentences?

Indeterminate sentences were introduced in 2005 and abolished in 2012. During this time, 8711 indeterminate sentences were handed out. Under an IPP, offenders were given a minimum tariff rather than a fixed term prison sentence. Prisoners could only be released at the end of that tariff if they had completed an offending behaviour course and a parole board was satisfied that they no longer pose a risk to the community. If these requirements were not met at that point, offenders would remain in prison until they were.

These sentences were originally intended for only the most serious offenders, such as those convicted of violent or sexual offences. However, most tariffs handed out over this time were for four years or less, signalling that IPPs have been widely used for minor crimes as well. Many offenders who committed minor offences in this time period have ended up serving a sentence disproportionate to the crime.

Difficulty Accessing Rehabilitation Courses

Before prisoners are given the opportunity to be considered by the parole board, they must first complete an offending behaviour course. The aim of this course is to help prisoners manage their behaviour, reducing the likelihood of reoffending when released. This course forms part of a prisoner rehabilitation strategy, but unfortunately access to this course is becoming increasingly difficult, which could have a negative effect on inmate mental health.

Not all prisons run this course, and some prisoners might be forced to wait months or even years to be transferred to one that does. These waiting times increase the sentence further, which can lead affected inmates to lose hope and become frustrated. The Prisoners’ Advice Service added that some prisoners on IPP sentences might not have the ability to complete the course due to the effect of mental health conditions or learning difficulties, leaving them at a disadvantage.

Sentencing Decisions Informed by Expert Guidance

Although these sentences have now been abolished, insight from a psychiatric expert witnesscan aid judges in making sentencing decisions which are proportional to the individual and the severity of the offence committed. Some offenders may have a mental health problem at the time of committing a crime, and these conditions are only going to worsen within prison. Among those offenders currently in prison on indeterminate sentences, levels of suicide and self harm are shockingly high, and 33% of male and 51% of female prisoners suffer from depression.

Psychiatrists can provide an impartial assessment of whether it is safe for a prisoner on an indeterminate sentence to be released. Psychiatric expert witnesses can be involved in the court stage of a case, or on a parole board. Foresight offers an unrivalled selection of psychiatry expert witnesses for criminal defence and parole board assessments nationwide, so get in touch if you have any expert witness requirements.



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