One man who had an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) order imposed on him is now campaigning to free others who should have been released years ago.
IPP was scrapped in 2012 after the government accepted the indeterminate sentences were unjust, but ministers failed to wipe out the convictions of thousands who were already behind bars.
Today, over 1,400 people remain incarcerated with no hope on the horizon.
The "lock them up and throw away the key" law was introduced by hardline former Labour Home Secretary (now Lord) David Blunkett in 2005 and came into practice in 2007.
Lord Blunkett has since admitted his idea was a bad one, which was repealed five years later. But the damage was already done for thousands of offenders given IPP sentences, who were disproportionately black and minority ethnic.
Andrew Morris was convicted of five charges in 2007 after a domestic incident which he regrets, but in which nobody was physically harmed.
Morris would have expected to get a maximum tariff of five years but ended up serving 12 long years in prison before being eventually released in 2019, and says he would still be behind bars if he had not challenged the system.
He said: “When I got the sentence nobody was able to explain to me exactly what it meant, be that probation, lawyers, or prison staff.
The psychological damage of those effectively serving a life sentence, without actually having been given life is palpable.
Many have been locked up with no date for freedom in sight, and some have died behind bars having given up hope.
Government figures obtained by The Voice publication show that in June 2022 there were 1,492 prisoners including men and women serving IPP sentences with no end date.
Of that number, 22 percent (335) are identified as from a non-white background, higher than the current non-white population of 19 percent. It is believed the disproportionality for African and Caribbean inmates is much higher.
Morris commented: “During the time that I was in custody I noticed in terms of tariffs, African Caribbean and Asian sentenced people were disproportionately higher than their white counterparts. My experience is that systemic racism is alive and well.
“I was told under the act I was dangerous, so I would be given an indeterminate sentence. But I now effectively work for the Ministry of Justice which kept me in prison. If I was dangerous then, what’s changed from then to now?”
The law was designed to keep serious offenders in prison for as long as necessary, without a life sentence being handed out.
Under the IPP after a prisoner has served a minimum term their release is at the discretion of the parole board. If they rule the person is a threat to the public, they can keep the prisoner behind lock and key indefinitely, regardless of the crime.
Morris is not the only one impacted by the ongoing effects of an obscure law.
Donna Mooney’s brother Tommy Nicol was jailed in 2009 after stealing a car and causing a non-life threatening injury.
Nicol took his own life in 2015, two years after he would have been released were it not for his IPP sentence. He was 37.
He had received a number of parole knock-backs, which took their toll.
Mooney said her brother had complained of “psychological torture”, not knowing when he’d ever be released, and went on hunger strike. He also suffered long periods in solitary confinement.
Nicol was continuously moved through the prison system with his mental health issues sidelined despite being assessed as needing support.
Before his death, Nicol was imprisoned in an unfurnished cell in HMP Mount in Hemel Hempstead.
A video at his inquest showed prison officers manhandling Nicol during a mental health crisis.
Mooney says her brother Tommy would still be alive if he’d been aware at least of a release date.
A cross-party inquiry of MPs heavily criticised IPP sentencing and the fact that so many were still incarcerated long after the policy had been scrapped.
But last month the government rejected the Justice Committee findings, prompting Conservative chair of the inquiry, Bob Neill, to criticise his own party, saying: “The nettle has not been grasped and, as a result, these people will remain held in an unsustainable limbo.”
The Prison Reform Trust said that IPP sentences “cast a long shadow over our justice system years after its abolition.”
A spokesperson said: “Thousands of people have been held in prison for many years longer than they could ever have anticipated; and a lack of adequate support sadly sees many returning back there after they’ve secured their release.
“The House of Commons Justice Committee was unequivocal in its call that government, judiciary and parliament must act together to end the injustice which the sentence represents, marking a serious cross-party attempt to right a terrible historic wrong.
“The blanket refusal of the government - that every person serving an IPP should have their sentence reviewed and replaced - suggests we have a Ministry of Justice in name only.”
Mooney added: “Everyone deserves a second chance. We base our criminal justice system on justice yet the IPP is punishment and psychological torture. It’s not fair justice in any shape or form.”
The Parole Board for England and Wales denied they treated IPP prisoners unfairly