A prisoner climbed on the roof of Strangeways to protest indeterminate sentences
Content warning: discussion of prison conditions and suicide
In February, government ministers rejected a review of the controversial Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). Since then, IPP prisoners have begun to lose what little hope they previously had of ever being released. The sentence has been described by many as psychological torture.
Shortly after the government announcement, the Canary reported that IPP prisoner Keith Gadd had tragically taken his own life at HMP Bristol. In total, 81 IPP prisoners have taken their own lives since the sentence was introduced 18 years ago.
One IPP prisoner at Strangeways in Manchester decided to take matters into his own hands. Joe Outlaw staged a 12-hour rooftop protest on Thursday 13 April. As crowds of people gathered below, he chanted “No IPP” and chalked the words on the roof of the prison too.
Normally, it feels like IPP prisoners are forgotten about, their voices silenced. But Joe’s protest quickly went viral. The corporate media was all over it. Much of the MSM messaging made cheap shots at Joe, but his action sparked messages of support and sympathy from the public on Twitter:
Last night a man climbed onto the roof of HMP Manchester, made a love heart gesture and wrote FREE IPPZ. This is a completely predictable reaction to the IPP crisis, & must be seen as a peaceful political protest, not ‘disorder’. https://t.co/ZNdvUKGbDA
— Sophie Ellis (@Psych_SEllis) April 13, 2023
The protest Joe Outlaw held at Strangeways is valid & is obvs demonised by the CJS & media. The reporting I read from the MEN focuses on his criminalisation & actions from being imprisoned rather than the injustice of IPP sentences. Solidarity with him & all (IPP) prisoners!
— Zara Joy (@indigenousmanc) April 13, 2023
A prison sentence which takes away hope
The courts started to give out IPP sentences in 2005. The government said at the time that it would only be used in the most extreme cases. However, in reality over 8000 sentences were handed out, more than eight times the intended number.
IPP prisoners were given a tariff, which was the minimum amount of time they had to serve. When this tariff was up, their release was in the hands of the parole board.
But parole boards can put impossible obstacles in the way of release. Bristol Anarchist Black Cross 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.
As a result, many IPPs have served over a decade over their original tariff. Even if they are released, they remain permanently on license and subject to recall to prison for petty breaches of their conditions.
In 2012, several IPP prisoners took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The court found that these sentences were “arbitrary” and thus “unlawful”. Soon afterwards, the UK government abolished the sentence. However, this was never applied to existing IPP prisoners. Almost 3000 of them remain behind bars.
Joe Outlaw: imprisoned TikTok poet
Free The Ipp Prisoners
Rebels and revolutionaries have long published prison writings, which often have massive effects on the social struggles raging outside the prison walls. In recent years, many prisoners have turned to recording TikTok videos. These videos are generally filmed by prisoners on contraband mobile phones which, if found, could add years to their sentences.
Joe has published a video where he raps about IPP, seemingly from inside Strangeways. In one film, Joe quips angrily:
It’s your IPP that’s killing me
A 12 year, from a four year rec
That’s eight years more, don’t you think I paid my debt
Joe continues, with a blistering indictment of the hoops that the carceral system makes IPP prisoners jump through in order to secure their release:
The system has had a grab on this man different. Trapped in the system since I was an infant.
But now I get it, your govs don’t listen. You’re making every single thing a fucking mission.
And ’cause I speak up, I need managing. And ’cause I got a voice, you tell me that I’m challenging.
In another video seemingly from Strangeways, Joe talks to the camera about the suffering being caused by the IPP sentence:
The IPPs are getting forgotten about now, It’s painful, man. It’s sad because you’ve got to understand you’ve got nearly 10,000 people who got sentenced that sentence… That’s thousands, tens of thousands of sisters, sons, brothers, mums, uncles, family members. There’s lads that are sat there suffering to this day badly.
‘Everybody on the IPP put your hands up’
Joe scornfully places the blame on the government for continuing with IPP sentences:
So fuck yourself government, incapable of governing
Joe finishes his TikTok by rapping about getting paid under £7.50 a week for working in the prison servery, where he isn’t even allowed to eat the leftovers.
The Ministry of Justice has said that Joe will face further punishment for his Strangeways rooftop protest. The parole board is set to review his sentence on 25 April, and it remains to be seen how the protest will affect his application.
But whatever happens, his actions were a brave stand against an unjust sentence that has ruined countless lives. His protest, and his voice, broke through the wall of silence and challenged the government intransigence that surrounds IPP sentences.
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 screenshot/About Manchester
- Write to prisoners, who are calling for solidarity in the UK
- Learn more about IPP sentences
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