Video report by Granada Reports' journalist, Emma Sweeney
A man who has been in jail for more than a decade for stealing a mobile phone could finally be freed after the government was urged to urgently review a now defunct law.
Thomas White, was given a minimum of two years in prison in 2012 after being convicted of street robbery, and was told to undergo a series of progressive programs before he could be released.
The father-of-one, from Bury, is one of thousands given an Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence, which sets a minimum but not maximum term in prison.
As part of the requirements for release under an IPP, Thomas must access rehabilitation courses - but his family claim many of the prisons he has been transferred to over the past 11 years, do not have the necessary courses available.
It means he has remained in prison for almost 11 years with little chance of release.
His sister, Clara - who has long campaigned for his release - said her brother's mental and physical health have deteriorated during his time in prison.
She described one occasion when her mum had to ask prison guards to identify her son.
“He was just looking at the floor weighing around seven stone", Clara said.
“My mum said the only reason she knew it was her son was because she picked up his face and identified him by his eyes… that’s how disheveled my brother was.
“She didn’t want to go back to the prison to go and see him anymore because there was nothing we could do.”
What is an IPP sentence?
IPP sentences were introduced by the Labour Government in 2005.
They were intended for serious offenders who were deemed to pose an ongoing risk to public safety but did not merit a life sentence.
In practice, anyone convicted of any one of 96 serious violent or sexual offences who had also a previous conviction from one of a list of 153 specified offences was liable to an IPP sentence meaning that they could be imprisoned indefinitely beyond their minimum jail tariff.
Although the controversial sentences were abolished in 2012, there are still 2,926 people imprisoned under IPPs, including 1,434 that were recalled to custody having been released.
Professor Felicity Gerry KC, member of the King's Council, described IPPs as ‘torturous’ and ‘harmful’.
She added: "Imprisonment for Public Protection was a law that allowed judges to risk assess and impose sentences with no real end date on people considered to be risky; of course, that was usually people who weren’t very well.
"They have had their punishment more than anyone else to a level of harm, in my view it is torturous."
Thomas, who is said to have additional needs, was in and out of jail for ‘petty crimes’ until his 2012 sentencing.
Clara said: "He was out in Manchester city centre drinking and he stole somebody’s phone and was charged with street robbery of a mobile phone."
James Daly, MP for Bury North and member of the Justice Select Committee was part of a year-long inquiry that found that IPP sentences were ‘Irredeemably flawed’.
After the finding, the Justice Select Committee recommended the government re-sentence all IPP prisoners.
Daly said: “What we have got at the moment is people serving custodial sentences basically because they have mental health problems rather than actually committing further offences.
“If the government do not support all the recommendations of the Justice Select Committee, I will carry on fighting until we get there in the end.”
The Government is expected to make an announcement on re-sentencing IPP Prisoners.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The number of IPP prisoners has fallen by two-thirds since 2012 and we are continuing to help those still in custody to progress towards release.
These sentences were handed down by judges who decided offenders posed a significant risk to the public.
"Under the PCSC Act we have committed to automatically review IPP prisoners’ sentences 10 years after they are first released.”
If you have been affected by issues raised in this article, for more information and support, you can go to:
Samaritans can be visited at their website or called on 116 123 for free if you need support with any on-going mental health problem.
The mental health charity Mind has information on ways to help yourself cope during a crisis.