Sentencing review: what’s it all about?

By Francesca Cooney, from insidetime issue September 2010

Francesca Cooney, Advice and Information Manager at the Prison Reform Trust, highlights the government’s review on sentencing policy

Sentencing review: what’s it all about?

The coalition government has announced that it will review sentencing policy. At the moment they have been asking people for their views on our sentencing system. The government expect to publish their proposals for change in the autumn. There will be another opportunity to comment then and after that the government will draft new laws.

The Prison Reform Trust has written to the government to outline some of the changes we would like to see. We agree with the government that the existing laws about sentencing are too complicated. It is also true that the public does not always understand how a sentence works and there needs to be better information and a more transparent system. We have recently called for reform of the IPP sentence and our submission to the government also looks at ways in which sentences for serious offences could be fairer. We also look at ways people with a learning disability or mental health problem can be assessed, diverted from court and receive treatment.

The prison population has grown because people are getting longer sentences for serious crimes and people who would have got a community sentence 15 years ago are now getting prison sentences.

We would like the sentencing framework to change so that prison is used less and sentence lengths are reduced. We would like judges and magistrates to use community sentences more. We would also like to see different sorts of community sentences made available and more options for courts. This should include fines, unpaid work orders, drug treatment and testing orders, curfew orders and attendance centre orders. One of the problems with community orders at the moment is that people can have unrealistic demands made on them with a single order having a long list of activities and requirements. This system could be simpler and each community order could be seen as a punishment by itself. Courts could also look at another community option if a defendant could not complete their original community sentence.

We have also asked the government to look at breach and recall. Over 10% of the local prison population are serving sentences for a breach. Most of these are for technical breaches of conditions, rather than for another offence. Probation officers used to be able to use their judgement more about when they recalled someone to prison and we believe that worked better. They would do a risk assessment on the individual and their situation, rather than recalling everybody who did not keep to the conditions.

We have done a number of opinion polls and we found that there is public support for supervised community penalties. The public also support other measures such as more help and early intervention for families and young people, better treatment for people with addiction and increased mental health services. As well as being better at reducing crime, this would be cheaper than sending people to prison. We hope that the government will consider this when reviewing sentencing. We expect to have more information about the governments’ plans in late October.

Our information line: 0808 802 0060 is open Mondays 3.30-7.30pm and Tuesdays and Thursdays 3.30-5.30pm. We can give you advice and information about prison life and your rights in prison. We are not solicitors and we cannot give you legal advice.

Back to top

Comments about this article

1/9/2010 John James -

With all due respect a lot of your comments are extreemely ''misleading the public'' You state that 'it is true the public don't no how the sentencing works'' wen a large majority of the public 'do' no how it works. I have a relative doin an ipp he needs medication(was on medication for yrs b4 goin 2prison)his brother since bein sentenced set up home with his wife, yet the prison doctor states he doesnt need medication. The lad's no idea when he will see daylight, hes not even in an ipp prison in order 2do the courses (been there for 2 years) and u say the public dont no how it works. Its a complete shambles, and no-body has the gumption to stand up and make it clear that its costly, financially and to these lad's lives. Its words and dribble we're hearing, nothing is being done for these lads, nothing at all..

1/9/2010 John James -

I set up a site for IPP Prisoners only 4 weeks ago on Facebook, theres over 2,000 joined. All believe that whats happening with these lads is inhumane. Why when they were in court was it stipulated 'In 2 yrs your courses will be done' indicating their freedom follows?when everyone knows this isnt the case. Why can't the goverment allow these lads 2serve the public? Do strenuous work as punishment?Know when their release dates will be?Also how can u state theyve to b of good conduct for all these years when 24/7 their living with thugs, drug addicts who fly into tempers regularly. How can they prove2b of good conduct. Why wont someone in power go in2 these jails and speak direct to IPP's just 2c exactly what theyre going through??Or do u want more suicides b4 something is done?

4/9/2010 Gordon Smith -

IPP Sentences where a mistake from the start with unobtainable goals due to the overcrowding of prisons. Prisons ran around like headless chickens wondering what to do with them. Then they realised that this was a money making opportunity recommending courses which would take years to achieve and a subsidised income for the prisons on top of their inadequate budget, a self perpetuating job creations scheme for psychology and probation to justify there need. Scrap all IPP sentences and release prisoners on their tarriffs

5/9/2010 laura

ipp sentences should be put in the bin where they belong its unfair unjust and those poor men dont know when they are ever going home please stop ipp sentences

6/9/2010 Jayne Lynch

My partner is on a IPP and has been working hard and staying out of trouble and doing everything the prison ask's of him. at no point has he started he courses and has been left blind.
Ipp should of never been brought in, its seems that you get put in prison and forgotten about, no one tells them anything, surely this goverment can get there act together and help this men and get them working outside in the community, or is it all down to money?

7/9/2010 ritalister -

i totally agree that the ipp sentences should be abolished, its inhumane and barbaric not having a date to be released. i have a son doing three yrs ipp hes never been in trouble before and ive worried about him he was suicidal.

9/9/2010 kirsty w

My partner is doing an ipp, he's done many years past his tariff, done everything he's been asked to do, done all his courses, but there is still no way out. More courses are always added on no matter what he does, as mentioned above it is a self perpetuating job creation scheme for psychology.There are far more people doing pyschology degrees than there are jobs to go round so it's in their interest that ipp's stay in prison doing courses for the rest of their lives. psi's & pso's supposed to help ipp's progress are totally ignored. Most of them now are so depressed they don't ever expect to be released it's no wonder so many are attempting suicide.
It's the cruellest and most barbaric sentence and nothing gets done to improve it.

13/9/2010 Gillian Hart -

The comments will I hope be heard and impact on the governments drive to make changes happen.

14/9/2010 Sonya T

My son is an ipp prisoner and has now served 5yrs and 4mths, his tariff was 2yrs. He had a parole hearing in july and they are recommending open conditions.Although this seems to be a step in the right direction he has no clue how long he will have to spend in catD, from what I have heard and been reading it will probably be another 2yrs.So all in all by the time he is moved and served another 2yrs, he will have served 8yrs of a 2yr sentence.He is one of those prisoners that has been left in limbo because he was sentenced before 2008, he has met all the criteria asked for, courses etc, the parole board now want him to find his own job and accomodation for when he is released, they do not think that moving in with his supportive parents and a job with his father is a good idea? People without a criminal record are having difficulty finding work and keeping a roof above there heads, what chance does my son have. My son should be released now and so should any other ipp prisoners over tariff!

21/9/2010 margaret

my first post on here was refused!!! so i have to choose my words son got 5 yrs ipp..he is inside now for nearly 3 yrs he has not been offered any courses to do the justice system forgot him but i many young and old men are thinking of suicide as they cant see no way out of this mess..the courts,judges are playing GOD with ppls lifes..but hopefuly something will be done now about this ipp sentencing law

23/9/2010 lottie13

My boyfriend was sentenced to a 3 year tariff Ipp, he is now currently starting his 5th year.
This sentence is in human for all involved, my boyfriend has turned his life around, and he did this all himself, he got himself to where he is at the moment and im extremley proud of him, every course he has a certificate for it's downn to his sheer persistence and dertermination. He got himself to a jail with a T.C department (theraputic community), and has worked at it soildily for 2 years. His the one who sent off for the application, filled it out, wrote countless letters about the status of his application, etc etc, the prison he was in did nothing. I do beleve if had he not done it off his own back he would proberly still be at his first jail. It has been tough extremley, we have been to some really dark places, this type of sentence destroys many lives, it gives no sense of hope for the prisoner, partners or familiy. Prisoners are left to rot which in turn has catastrophic affects for all on the outside and the prisoner. All concerned are waiting for that little bit of hope, that little bit that never comes. I beleve in rehabilitation, however this sentence is soul destroying for all invovled. My boyfriend is 5 years clean of drugs, and overcome his mental illness and has no nickings in his 4 years and 3 months and has many courses and therapy behind him, but what next you tell me, tell him cause no one ever does, there is no recognition in place there is no support, no words of encouragement to urge this population of forgotten men on, because the government and the prison system have turned there backs have buried their heads in the sand have simply forgotton our men. In shortfall if we dont remember then who really would????

27/9/2010 kizzy -

how can an ipp sentence be of any value to people when the courses that they are supposed 2 be doin are not their ????? why is it that these young men that have no release date to look forward to returning to the people who love them when rapists,murderers and pheadaphiles are allowed to be re-housed and settled in other parts of the country just 2 re-offend in these serious crimes... everyone gets in2 an argument or fight at sometime in there lives through their own fault or not... but these prisoners are HUMAN BEINGS not ANIMALS.... and a man called john james set up a support page on facebook and only for him none of us would have known what an ipp sentence was so well done to him because he has done so much and extras and has got alot of support...and members of my own family have written to their local mp's and parliment so lets see what they have to say or will this be BRUSHED UNDER THE CARPET LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE as usual....i am a member of the travelling community and would like to say to all the prisoners that we are here to try and help and support you all in anyway we can because no matter the colour of our skin or our religion or who and where we are born we have one most important thing in common we are all HUMAN...

29/9/2010 kelly -

my partner is serving an ipp he has done all his courses served over 4 years but still we have no idea when or if he will ever be realeasd we dont get to see him alot as he has been all over the country in diffrant prisons doing theses courses our children are suffering his really depressed and what hope is there when u do everythink they tell u to do and still ur in the same situation ipp has ruined our lifes and gets worse every day my children cry when i tell them that i dont no when there dads coming home no birthdays christmas nothing i pray that they scrap ipps and let them people who have served there tarifs and dones there courses out its not fair and we are suffering day after day

3/10/2010 Annie -

My partner, 7 months ago was sentenced too 22 years with an IPP of 11years and 6 months to do before being considered for parole. Im not sure when he will get out, in 11 years or in 22 years? The sentencing was a harsh one as my partner was only 23 and has no previos convictions what so ever as this crime was only commited at a bad time in his life & beleive me, He's sorry now!! Im not excusing what he has done but there's people doing less for double murders. The issues that concern me most is, will we ever be able to have a family of our own or will it be too late by the time he's 'released?!!' This is punishing me just as much as it is him. When the judge sentenced him to IPP he also took away his human rights, Its not just his feedom he has taken, its his future & maybe a family of his own one day. This is the only thing my partner tries to look to, but how can he? I hope someone, somewhere, will abolish these IPP's, they are life wreckers, they give the prisoners nothing to work up too or ambitions for the future. It is UNHUMAN!!

8/10/2010 darren

our son got sentenced too a ipp sentence in 2005 he was told too serve a minimum off 4 n half years he as now served 5years 4 months and not even anywhere near hearing about a parole hearing ok he did his crime and he as now done his time how long can they keep this barbaric cruel sentencing rule that is sentencing not just the prisoners but also us the prisoners family and friends too a never ending life off worry and stress all we ask is that they get there parole hearings on time after they have served their tariff and we as prisoners families and the men and women as prisoners get a end too the no ending sentences that we and the prisoners are having too cope with real soon. PLEASE

8/10/2010 lindsey

after reading all these comments im slowly loosing hope. a long term friend who is now my partner is serving an ipp sentance. hes got 18 months before his parole date, hes doing everything they ask of him..the courses, the voluntary drugs/alcohol tests and i can see a real change in him. nobodys saying these men dont deserve A SENTANCE for whatever crime they commited but PLEASE give these lads a release date..something to work towards some shread of hope for them to strive for. there getting nothing, it must seem like a never ending circle for them with nothing to look forward to, and its no surprise a lot feel suicidal. ive read that over 2,500 prisoners have served more than 2 yrs over their parole tarriff...wheres the prisoners human rights?? for a fair and just system!!!! it needs to change. how can they prove theyve changed if their never given the chance to???

20/10/2010 Cham

I'm so worried about the out come of this month, and now especially after reading the above comments, my heart goes out to you all... My daughters dad got a 7 year ipp with a tariff of 3 n a half years in 2007 which he's now served just over, he's parole review should ov been done last year...hes done all the courses asked ov him and more and hes review is in 8days, out side probation and inside probation have recommended his D-cat but now im starting to think will this make any difference at all?? And where will we stand if he dosent get it?? I think its disgusting that they brought in this sentencing without no sensible or thought to how they ever thought it would work!! I would love to know also if they've ever stopped and thought wot if it was a friend or family member of theirs.....

13/11/2010 helaina gardner -

i feel very worried about this months outcome it is our final chance that something will be done about this barbaric sentence my heart goes out to all of u that are in my situation . i pray for u all that we will finally get out of the nightmare we and our loved ones live in everyday . the new government needs to see the damage this sentence is doing to prisoners and their families .

14/2/2011 elizabeth tebbs


Post a comment

This article appears under the following categories...
Legal Issues

Summary of headlines for September 2010
£2bn Cuts
Guilty until proven innocent - historic cases
Prison psychologists - biased practitioners
What’s in your file?
Abuse of Process
Parole woes!
Recent developments in The Law of Confiscation
Month by Month
My Precious
Halden Prison, the stuff of dreams
The lamp must still burn
Current page: Sentencing review: what’s it all about?
‘Shout OXO’ before you die
What’s a ‘psychopath’, a ‘DSPD’ and should Peter Sutcliffe ever be released?
The innocence of prisoners’ children
Your Children Your Rights
The rules are simple, choose your own loophole
Lie detector tests and you
Rule 39 Correspondence - guidance

Back to top


Inside Time Latest Issue

Issue : December 2014

Headlines | Mailbag | Poems
Book List | PSI Updates


Back Issues

Back Issues

View backissues and extras

Browse and Search Tools

View headlines by category
Search headlines | All headlines
Search mailbag | All mailbag
Search poems | All poems

December 2014 Headlines
> Treat Prisoners as Human Beings, Not Criminals
> What are prisons for
> A search for any trace of the government’s Rehabilitation Revolution
> Tell us why you did it?... You must be joking I didn’t do it
> Care Act - what does it mean for prisoners
> Doctor Frankenstein and his monster
> Human Rights: truth and lies
> Scapegoating the undeserving poor
> Interview
> The first Miscarriage of Justice
> Month by Month - December 2014
> The 2014 Longford Trust Awards
> Is it all in the mind
> Time
> Learning in prison
> Take your first Steps to Success in 2015
> Spotlight Police and Crime Commissioners
> From over the wall
> Over-tariff IPPs: an appeal for your stories
> Paperwork is the key
> Adjudication - don’t let those days count against you
> Insider Dealing
> Christmas Stories
> Christmas Messages
> Christmas Messages

About Us

About insidetime
Editorial Team

InsidePoetry Book

insidepoetry book New! Volume 5 of
insidepoetry book
is now available!

A collection of poems by prisoners of all backgrounds.

Availabe to buy from this site! Volume 1,2,3 and 4 are also still available and you can SAVE by purchasing bundles!

USP Service

USP from Inside Time

The Useful Services for Prisoners scheme from insidetime provides discounts, vouchers and other benefits from USP Group Members for Prisoners, their families and legal advisors. Click the image above to read more about it.


You can subscribe to insidetime Newspaper and get the paper each month delivered to your door!


Advertise your business or solicitors office to a highly defined target audience.

Other Publications

Inside Time has produced a number of books and publications you can purchase online.


Contact Us

All contact info for the Operations office and the Editorial Team.

Site Map

Our site map page contains links to all pages on the insidetime site.

External Links

We have a number of external websites which you may be interested on our Links Page.

Social Networking


Inside Information


Everything you need to know about visiting people in prison; procedures, opening times, directions etc.

Comprehensive information about each prison regime; lock down times, facilities, healthcare etc.

*NEW* Detailed information about IRC - Immigration Removal Centres.

insideinformation Book

insideinformation book
The insideinformation book

A comprehensive guide to prisons and prison related services, designed and compiled by former prisoners.


Help and Support

Various pages of information for help and support organisations and networks for those in custody as well as recently released. Also information for friends and family.

Grants and Funding

This grants and funding pdf document aims to meet the need of prisoners and ex-offenders for accurate, up to date information on the supplementary funding available to prisoners.

Rules and Regulations

Information on rules & regulations used throughout the prison service.

Glossary of Terms

The Glossary of Prison Related Terms explains what all the acronyms and terms stand for with prison related matters. Includes links to external sites to further explain things.

Fact Sheets

We have produced many Prison Related Fact Sheets inc. Legal Fact Sheets, Parole Fact Sheets and Other related information.


Find a Solicitor

You can search our solicitor database for listings of solicitors in your area that provide the services you require.

Find a Barrister

You can search our barrister database for listings of barristers in your area that provide the services you require.

Address Finder

You can search our address database in many ways to retrieve contact information for all those elusive addresses you need in a hurry.

Prison Law pdf

This document provides details of leading training providers who offer sound professional training.

Other Publications

Inside Information has produced a number of books and publications you can purchase online.

Site Map

Our site map page contains links to all pages on the insideinformation site.

Contact Us

Use the Contact Us Feedback form to send us suggestions, plus our address and phone numbers.



Inside Justice

insidejustice was launched in July 2010 to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice.

Full introduction is on the insidejustice homepage

insidejustice Cases

insidejustice Articles & Reviews

insidejustice Advisory Panel Members

insidejustice Sponsors page

insidejusticecontact details