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The Forgotten – The Prisoners Who Continue to Serve Abolished IPP Sentences.

By Olivia Davin and Harry Robinson.

Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences have no maximum tariff. No release date. No promise of freedom or hope to cling onto.

IPP prisoners average 1,306 self-harming incidents per 1,000 people – a figure that is continuing to soar as Britain’s forgotten prisoners continue to serve seemingly never-ending sentences for often low-level crimes.

2,223 IPP prisoners remain confined to their prison cells, most of whom serving 10 years or more over their minimum tariff as the system neglects to help them.

IPP sentences have been described by those serving them as the “psychological torture of a person serving 99 years”.

The prisoner to give this quote was Tommy Nicol. Tommy took his own life in his holding cell after six years of serving his indeterminate sentence. He was 37.  

Tommy’s family were not made aware of his death until the prison had decided to turn off his life machine. Though he was unresponsive, Tommy lay in a hospital bed in restraints.

Forgotten. Alone. Disregarded.

When Donna went to the prison to collect Tommy’s belongings, she was handed a “four bullet point” piece of paper explaining his death. That was it.

“It’s heart-breaking to find out that my brother died by suicide and that he died alone” says Donna Mooney, Tommy’s sister.

“He was writing me letters telling me, ‘they’re going to keep me here forever’”.

Prison staff members wrote down that Tommy was talking to people who weren’t there in his cell, rocking back and forth in a corner and sitting in a circle of his own blood. “It was clear he was having a mental health breakdown, and they’re telling him to ‘behave’.”

Donna felt that the prison staff did not do enough. She says: “When you look at how it was dealt with, its obvious that he was struggling. The focus was always on his compliance. They found non-compliance forms in his cell when he hung himself.”

For years, Tommy had been fighting to get the help that he needed. Five years into his sentence, Tommy wrote a formal complaint at Erlestoke Prison concerning the lack of attention that he was receiving.

He needed to participate in therapeutic courses before he could be considered by the parole board for release. None of the prisons that Tommy was moved to were able to offer a therapeutic community to him.

Donna: “I’ve been told directly from people who make these decisions that IPP prisoners are not a priority on these courses because they don’t have a release date.”

In 2014 Tommy moved himself into solitary confinement for 47 days and he also went on a hunger strike for four days in October 2014. This was due to the frustrations he had about not being moved to a prison that provided a therapeutic community.

In July 2015, Tommy placed himself in segregation for 75 days and underwent a seven day hunger strike, following a parole knock back. Tommy had been told by the board that he needed to have spent time in a therapeutic community before he could be considered. Tommy had been trying for years to gain access to these courses.

On the 19th September 2015 he was moved to an unfurnished cell. Due to the extreme impact that this can have on a prisoner’s mental health, it is advised that inmates spend no more than 24 hours in such a cell. However, Tommy was kept in an unfurnished cell for over 24 hours.

Tommy came from a troubled background and was in and out of young offender’s institutes in his youth. These troubled experiences came to a peak when he attempted to rob a car from a mechanic’s garage, but was caught before he could do so.

(Tommy as a young boy. Source: Donna Mooney).

Whilst Donna agrees that there should have been consequences for what Tommy did and does not justify the fact that Tommy broke the law, she described his IPP sentence as “inhumane”. She insists that Tommy should have been punished fairly, and that being given an IPP sentence was not a fair punishment.

About Tommy’s upbringing, Donna said: “When you grow up in an environment of trauma you are already made to feel like you’re bad. Then you have authorities enforcing that and you think: well I am bad, so I suppose I may as well just carry on.”

About IPP prisoners, Donna commented: “They are the forgotten people. They are labelled the most dangerous so the public think that must be true, the majority of them are not dangerous.”

Tommy tried desperately for 6 years to submit applications for the required courses in his sentence. The endeavour was out of his hands as he constantly had to wait for other people to submit the applications for him.

Whilst Tommy was waiting for a decision about his acceptance into the therapeutic community, the prison system failed and lost his application. They neglected to notify Tommy of this for a year.

Tommy then made two further applications: after the first, he was told by the prison that his answers in the application were not detailed enough to be accepted. Tommy was accepted onto a course after applying once again, but the course closed before he was able to participate in it.


“The system 100% failed Tommy.”


Since Tommy was never able to access the courses required in his sentence, he was constantly denied parole by the board. This loss of hope and feeling of being forgotten is what would lead him to the decision to take his own life.

Even if IPP prisoners do manage to get released on parole, their recall rate is so much higher due to a blanket recall criterion for all IPP prisoners; regardless of the severity of their crimes, those on parole can be imprisoned again without an investigation for breaches as menial as being late.

The parole board have said that they have released 60% of recalls on their first hearing as they return to prison for things that they should not be recalled on.

Donna said that those who do get released live in constant fear of being sent back, with the system creating a vicious cycle of imprisonment that saps any hope of truly living without a cloud hanging over their heads.

“I read things and think, ‘this can’t be true’, but it is.”

(Tommy as a young boy. Source: Donna Mooney).

Prisons have been prone to deserved criticisms regarding their insubstantial mental health support. The Prison Reform Trust states that 40% of prisons inspected in 2016–17 had inadequate or no training for prison officers to know when to refer a person for mental health support.

Donna believes increased mental health support would have helped her brother. “A week before he died, he had a health screening when he moved prisons,” she recalled. “They didn’t even record that he had come out of a 90-day segregation in the last prison, it didn’t raise any red flags for them.”

“I feel that the system was built to fail. They don’t have the resources or the money. The system 100% failed my brother. MPs have said this themselves – this sentencing should’ve never have happened in the first place.”

Donna is meeting with Justice Secretary Robert Buckland in September. She is requesting resentencing for everyone on the IPP sentence now that IPP sentences are no longer administered.

If this can’t happen, Donna would like to have to parole test changed. The probation officials should have to provide evidence that the prisoners are dangerous, rather than having to prove that they are not.

Further, Donna aims for a change in license conditions to make the licenses for IPP prisoners the same as everyone else who is sentenced for that crime. Finally, Donna aims to ensure that probation officers cannot simply recall prisoners on a whim; the recalls would have to be approved by the parole board.

About her campaigning, Donna said: “I hope that I am giving Tommy a legacy. I don’t want his death to be for nothing.”

(Tommy and his sister Donna. Source: Donna Mooney).

IPP sentences were initially meant for only 900 people, criminals who imposed a real threat to the public. Instead, 9,000 people were given IPP sentences – most for lower-level offences. 9,000 people essentially labelled as the most dangerous criminals in the country, subsequently tortured and neglected by a flawed prison system.

2,600 prisoners remain saddled with the burden of that label, draining any hope of release back into society in a setting that already takes its toll on its inhabitants mentally.

These are the forgotten prisoners, remember their cause. For more information on IPP sentences visit INQUEST or follow @forgotten_ipps on Twitter.


4 thoughts on “The Forgotten – The Prisoners Who Continue to Serve Abolished IPP Sentences.

  1. It breaks my hart what the system did to your brother 😥and I totally respect the fight that you and all the family of ipp are fighting x but I do believe with the help of god you will get justice for him bless you all xx


  2. Totally failed 😔. Reading this makes it real and so sad that anyone has to go through the process of torture because that is basically what this lad went through. No human should have to go through this in this era. He was failed to the point of taking his own life. So sad it makes me angry 😢


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