Quakers have a long-lasting interest in prisons and wider criminal justice issues.
This dates from the earliest days of the Society of Friends in the 1650s, when Quaker Meetings were illegal, and we were often persecuted for holding them. Our founder, George Fox, was often imprisoned, and one of the best-known advocates of prison reform was the Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, in the 19th century.
An example of a successful Quaker initiative is Circles of Support and Accountability, designed to support former sex offenders. some of whom have IPP sentences. This has grown into a successful organisation, Circles UK, with a network of regional Circles, often with Quaker participation. Another programme, originally set up by Quakers, is the Alternatives to Violence Project.
So Quakers are often alert to needs and injustices in the criminal justice system, and seek solutions. One blatant injustice on our radar, is Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP), introduced in 2005, thereafter applied excessively by the courts. It was abolished in 2012 but, astonishingly, is still in existence today. Within our Quakers in Criminal Justice (QICJ) group are several men who are subject to this sentence, who write in our newsletters about the hopeless Kafka-esque situation in which they find themselves.
QICJ have therefore decided to speak out about IPP, producing a statement, to join the growing number of voices condemning the legacy of this misguided sentence and calling for it to be terminated. Peers raised the issue during the recent passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, declaring that it should be ‘dealt with’ without delay.
Even the Minister who introduced IPP, David Blunkett, admits it was a mistake, and has drawn attention to the high number of recalls, commenting:
If we are not careful, that trajectory (of increasing numbers of recalls) will lead to more prisoners being in prison on IPP on recall than are actually in prison for the original IPP sentence applied, which is a farcical situation and a tragedy for them.
We are well aware of the effects of IPP on mental health, as is the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, in their forthcoming report. The Prison Inspectorate and Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody are among reliable sources of information who have gathered data on high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among IPP prisoners. This has come to the attention of the House of Commons Justice Committee, whose Inquiry on IPP has drawn on evidence from experts, families and prisoners (report expected shortly).
Quakers are particularly concerned about the welfare of IPP prisoners once released into the community. Their ability to reintegrate is limited because licence provisions remain in force indefinitely, causing ongoing stress, and anxiety about possible recall. Since there appears to be no targeted support for this vulnerable group, we are calling for a well-funded probation programme to address this omission. Not only should it tackle the specific circumstances of the IPP experience but also reduce the risk of reoffending and enable those affected to contribute to society.