As a retired probation officer who was involved in the delivery of training programmes for the Criminal Justice Act 2003, I would suggest that the inadequacy of sentencing in Usman Khan’s case was rooted in the manner in which imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences were used following their introduction in 2005. They were intended for cases where the circumstances of an offence fell short of the threshold for a life term, but there was evidence of an ongoing serious risk to the public.
Unfortunately, IPPs were passed in numerous cases where they were inappropriate and were likely to do more harm than good. In particular, they were handed out to damaged young men who were not only in need of therapy and rehabilitation, but were ill-equipped to deal with the open-ended nature of the sentence. This was compounded by the fact that the prison system was unable to offer the structured path available to lifers so those on IPPs were often stuck in busy jails or bounced around the system due to their problematic behaviour.
The result was that they were likely to reach their tariff expiry date without having completed appropriate rehabilitation programmes and thus fail to satisfy the Parole Board that they were safe to release. If the sentence had been used in the manner envisioned by those who drafted the act then Khan may still have been in custody rather than on the front pages having killed two people.
• If it is the case, as his solicitor claims, that Usman Khan wanted help to change his mindset but was turned down, that is a disturbing state of affairs (London Bridge attacker had asked for help to deradicalise – lawyer, 30 November).
Two former offenders, Marc Conway and James Ford, have been named as acting as heroes during Khan’s attack at London Bridge. Both had undergone intensive psychotherapy at HMP Grendon, one of the last remaining prisons run on the therapeutic community model for the rehabilitation of serious offenders. Ford had murdered a young woman in circumstances that seemed to indicate there could be no redemption. In the London Bridge attack he risked his life to save others. This is the power of rehabilitation to heal damaged psyches when it involves in-depth psychotherapy.
I was a psychotherapist running therapy groups for repeat offenders in one of the alternatives to prison set up in 1973 by Labour. Funding for these was cut by the Blair government to appease those calling for a “tough on offenders” approach.
Psychotherapy can bring about real change to hearts, minds and actions. Funding for these creative and effective interventions must be reinstated if we are to address the mental vulnerabilities that make people susceptible to radicalisation.
Honorary fellow, UK Council for Psychotherapy
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