Investigating cases involving IPP prisoners

Imprisonment for Public Protection

Imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences were introduced in 2005 and were designed to protect the public from serious or repeat offenders whose crimes did not merit a life sentence.

Those sentenced to an IPP are set a minimum term (tariff) which they must spend in prison. After they have completed their tariff they can apply to the Parole Board for release. The Parole Board will release a person subject to an IPP only if it is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public for the person to be confined. If IPP prisoners are given parole they will be on supervised licence for at least 10 years. If they are refused parole they can only apply again after one year.

The sentence was abolished in 2012, although existing IPP prisoners continue to serve their sentences.

The Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) has investigated several cases, related to both deaths in prison and complaints, of prisoners who were serving IPP sentences over the years. Between 2007 and 2018 the PPO investigated 54 self-inflicted deaths of prisoners serving IPP sentences.

The following case studies highlight examples of these cases.

Case Study A

Mr A, who was 35, received an IPP sentence for robbery with a tariff of two years and nine months. After five years in custody he was released, but three years later he returned to prison when he breached the terms of his licence.

During the three years after his return to prison, he repeatedly told staff he could not cope with his sentence and sought help from healthcare for anxiety. He was often challenging to manage.

Three weeks before he died, Mr A was moved to the segregation unit after he and two other prisoners barricaded themselves in a cell. That evening, Mr A made cuts to his wrist and staff began ACCT procedures. He was assessed by the mental health team, GPs and a psychiatrist. He was offered medication for anxiety and depression but often refused to take it because he said it made him feel worse.

Mr A said his IPP sentence was “killing him” and that he was concerned at plans to recategorise him from category C to B, which he feared would mean a move to a prison further from his family. He repeatedly told staff that he would kill himself after his next visit from his family.

Mr A’s mother visited him a week later. On the same day, he was told he was being recategorised to B. At an ACCT review that afternoon, staff considered that Mr A’s risk of suicide and self-harm had increased but they did not increase the frequency with which he was checked (which remained at once an hour). In the early hours of the next morning, an officer found Mr A hanged in his cell.

Case Study B

Mr B entered custody as a teenager on a short minimum tariff. When he complained to the PPO, he had been in prison for over 10 years. He had recently been recategorised from C to B and transferred to a new prison. He believed these decisions were unfairly impeding his progress.

Mr B believed that returning to his previous prison was important for his release because he had been working well with his therapist and had access to an onsite therapeutic community, a facility his new prison lacked.

Mr B wrote to us about the decision to recategorise and transfer him. Our investigation found that while Mr B had worked hard to reduce his risk of serious harm, we also found evidence of poor behaviour and control issues, and did not uphold this part of his complaint. Further, we agreed that Mr B’s behaviour presented a challenge to the prison and likely had an impact on other prisoners.

We were concerned about the case more broadly, however. While we found that efforts had been made to secure a progressive transfer for Mr B, he was essentially still in prison due to his poor behaviour. We felt that a failure of provision (specifically – the inability to locate Mr B with a therapeutic community and the inability to address his decline in behaviour) were preventing Mr B from making progress. We called for a review of the case and that this review should assess Mr B’s sentence plan and provide further support for progression.

Case Study C

Mr C received an IPP sentence with a tariff of three years. After seven years in custody, the Parole Board recommended a transfer to open conditions to prepare for release. He was recategorized to D and transferred, and was looking forward to proving himself and working towards his release. Later that year, he was approved to begin community work, made eight unescorted visits in the community and completed offending behaviour programmes.

Two days before Mr C’s death, he was accused of assaulting a prisoner and was moved to the segregation unit during the investigation. While there, Mr C was safety screened and assessed, at which point he said he was fine and made no complaints. The following morning, a duty manager visited Mr C and recorded that he seemed in good spirits. That afternoon an officer delivered a letter confirming Mr C was being transferred. It read: ‘It is alleged you assaulted another offender. You are to be moved to closed conditions pending police investigation’. That officer delivering the letter recorded that he took the news well.

Mr C was assessed by staff on arrival in his new prison. They were told he had not self-harmed, did not have a history of depression or thoughts of suicide, and concluded that he was not at risk of suicide. At reception, however, he called his father and said: ‘All right man, it’s coming back here and all that going through the same procedure again, feel like proper locked up again not even getting up’.

That night Mr C was not placed on special monitoring measures as he was found to not be at risk. At morning roll check, he was found hanging with jogging bottoms tied around his neck. Arriving paramedics assessed that he had been dead for some time.

Our investigation found several issues with the management of Mr C’s risk of suicide. During the two days he spent in segregation, he was assessed as not being at risk of suicide. We did not find staff had considered that Mr C’s new circumstances had increased his risk as an IPP prisoner. We also found that on arrival at closed conditions, again staff concluded that Mr C was not at risk of suicide. There was no evidence that staff had considered that Mr C’s transfer might have added considerable time to his sentence.

We recommended that prisons should ensure that all the known risk factors for newly arriving prisoners are fully considered and documented when determining an individual’s risk of suicide and self-harm.


As at September 2019, 2,059 prisoners continue to serve an IPP sentence in custody. We are aware of initiatives in HMPPS to identify, and prioritise, those cases where people are over tariff and not progressing towards release. These include progression units in some prisons and a review of all cases. We will continue to record, and share, the learning from our investigations as it relates to the IPP sentence and its impact on those serving it.