Another prisoner on an indeterminate sentence has taken his own life, with no release date in sight
Content warnings: suicide, self-harm, violence in prison
On Friday 10 March, people protested outside the gates of HMP Bristol in memory of prisoner Keith Gadd. Keith had taken his own life there the previous day. Keith was an IPP prisoner – he was serving an Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). His fellow prisoners said that he had recently been turned down for release by the Parole Board.
Demonstrators chanted “HMP, blood on your hands” and “Until all are free, Smash IPP!”. Amongst them were several family members and loved ones of other IPP prisoners.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) told the Canary that Keith’s death will be investigated, “as with all deaths in custody”. However, it is unlikely that the investigation will make any difference to the brutality of IPP sentences. The MOJ and the government know how harmful it is, but they are carrying on the sentence anyway.
Last July, another IPP prisoner called Taylor took his own life at Bristol’s HMP Eastwood Park. He had served over 14 years of an IPP sentence, and been repeatedly turned down for release.
A life sentence for minor crimes
At least 81 IPP prisoners have taken their own lives since Tony Blair’s government created the sentence in 2003. IPP prisoners are given a ‘tariff’ for the crime they’re being sentenced for, but they are not automatically released once that tariff is served. Their freedom is in the hands of the parole board. This makes IPP sentences equivalent to a life sentence, but they have largely been handed out for minor crimes.
The sentence has been described as psychological torture, with IPP prisoners commonly serving in excess of a decade or more in prison. The IPP sentence was discontinued in 2012, with the MOJ admitting that the sentence had been used more widely than initially intended. The government had only intended for 900 IPPs to be given out, but the courts doled out over 8,000.
IPP was not abolished retrospectively in 2012, and thousands of people remain imprisoned with no release date in sight.
The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) wrote last year:
as of 30 June 2022, nearly ten years after ‘abolition’, there remain 2,926 IPP prisoners in England and Wales. Of these, 1,492 have never been released. A further 1,434 have been released but later recalled to custody. Of the never-released population of 1,492, nearly half – 608 prisoners – are at least 10 years over their original tariff.
One of the prisoners interviewed for the CCJS report said:
So long as I’m under IPP I have no life, no freedom, no future. I fear IPP will force me to commit suicide. I have lost all trust and hope in this justice system.
Government refuses to scrap existing IPP prisoner’s sentences
IPP prisoners have had their hopes dashed once again by a recent government decision not to review the sentence. Just weeks before Keith’s suicide, justice secretary Dominic Raab announced that the MOJ would not resentence existing IPP prisoners. He said:
Retrospective resentencing of IPP offenders could lead to the immediate release of many offenders who have been assessed as unsafe for release by the Parole Board
But the Parole Board is putting impossible conditions on IPP prisoners. Bristol Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) wrote last year:
At each [parole] board hearing, new ‘hoops’ can be created that the prisoner will need to then jump through. For example, a prisoner might do everything the Parole Board directs and then two years later at the next hearing, the Parole Board might say “you still need to address X behaviour and therefore do X course.” This leads to a continual process of imprisonment where goal posts are repeatedly moved. The uncertainty, frustration and lack of power leads to prisoner behaviour deteriorating, whether that is increased drug use, self-harm or kicking off in protest.
This behaviour then becomes the justification for their continuing imprisonment, because that person is not ‘safe’ for the community or has not ‘addressed their offending behaviour’. The cycle continues.
Taylor – for example – was told that he had to stop self-harming before he was released, even though being locked up is often a factor in self-harm. In fact, official documents have reported a raised risk of self-harming behaviour for those serving IPP sentences.
Campaign group United Group for Reform of IPP (UNGRIPP) has vowed to keep up the pressure, and the IPP Committee in Action is holding a lobby of Parliament on 15 March.
Bristol ABC published a statement about Keith’s death. They wrote:
Bristol ABC pointed out that Keith’s death is just the latest in a long line of deaths in custody in Bristol’s prisons. The group wrote:
Keith’s death is just the latest death in Bristol’s prisons
Some of us knew Taylor, who took his own life at Bristol’s HMP Eastwood Park on 9th July 2022 – after serving over 14 years of an IPP sentence. Shortly before he killed himself, Taylor was beaten savagely by prison officers.
Clare Dupree died after a fire in her cell at Eastwood Park after a fire on December 26th, other prisoners heard her scream for the screws to help her, but they say the door was not opened.
Another prisoner called Kayleigh took her own life last year, after she too was brutally beaten by officers at Eastwood Park
Call to action
Bristol ABC called on people to take action to “avenge” those who have died in custody. The group says that – in their view – Keith, Taylor, Clare and Kayleigh were “murdered by the state”. The group wrote:
We will not accept the continued deaths in custody in our community. Keith – like Taylor, Clare and Kayleigh – was murdered by the state. We call on our comrades to take action wherever they are, and in whatever way they see fit, to remember those who have died in prison, and to avenge their deaths. It is up to us to show our rage against this murderous system.
We know that what’s happening in Bristol, is a microcosm of the suffering caused by the carceral system globally. We would like to send a message of solidarity to all those struggling for the abolition of this system.
IPP prisoners need our support
The IPP sentence has caused untold pain and suffering to so many people. The government is ignoring public pressure to draw a line under this cruel punishment. Now more than ever, IPP prisoners – and their families and loved ones – need our support. And as with many of the struggles against the prison system, this is a life or death struggle.
To learn how to join the campaign in support of IPP prisoners, check out the United Group for Reform of IPP and the IPP Committee in Action.
Featured image via Unsplash (cropped to 770×403)
- Write to prisoners, who are calling for solidarity in the UK
- Learn more about IPP sentences
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