Helping hand for families on long road ahead

A prison Dad shares a happy moment with his son

Dr Harry Annison, Associate Professor at Southampton Law School, has worked with Spurgeons on a new booklet – Offering a Helping Hand – to support the families of those serving IPP, a particular form of indeterminate prison sentence.

It’s a hopeful point on what he describes as a long road…

From the start of what has become my academic career, I found myself closely connected with the controversial indeterminate sentence introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP).

Profile picture of Dr Harry Annison of Southampton Law School

That was more than 10 years ago, when I played a very small part in the production of the Centre for Mental Health’s In the Dark report, which raised significant concerns about the IPP sentence and the damage it would cause.

I then conducted a detailed study of the politics and policymaking dynamics that influenced the creation, contestation, amendment and abolition of the IPP sentence, published as Dangerous Politics (a free-to-access article summarizing the key themes is available here).

By 2017, informed observers knew that significant problems still remained with the IPP sentence. But it was also clear that, despite excellent work by a range of academics and organizations, there were gaps in our knowledge. In particular, relatively little was known about the needs of families of people serving IPP. What were their experiences, and what did they need?

The needs of these families are an important consideration in their own right. But increased recognition of the role of families in resettlement (illustrated, for example, by the Farmer report, and the work on Strengthening Prisoners Family Ties) makes clear that their needs should also be an important consideration for anyone seeking to ameliorate the difficulties faced by people serving IPP in achieving release and sustainable resettlement.

Initially, research I conducted with Professor Rachel Condry (Oxford University) and funded by Southampton Law School gave us a clearer understanding of the problems. A short research article sets out our findings. We wrote that:

a pervasive sense of injustice and uncertainty underpins and permeates more specific concerns relating to efforts to progress towards release, and indeed to manage the stresses of life beyond release. Families report significant material effects, which also appear to be heavily gendered in their distribution. Family relationships – both with the prisoner and more widely – are often heavily disrupted. Negative health effects caused by the stress and anxiety of the experience were often reported.

A collaborative project, co-funded by the Prison Reform Trust and the ESRC, then enabled us to work with families to act on this. We wanted to know, given these difficulties, what would help. What could organisations – like the Prison Service, the Parole Board, probation, and others – do?

The report that emerged from that collaborative project, ‘A Helping Hand’, is available to download. I have been pleased with the positive response from a range of relevant organisations to our findings and recommendations, and I am aware of a number of positive initiatives that are ongoing.

The front cover of Spurgeons' Offering a Helping Hand booklet

It has been a particular pleasure to work with the Invisible Walls team based at HMP Winchester to develop the booklet Offering a Helping Hand’.

Being able to draw on, and learn from, their experience and expertise has been invaluable. The booklet is designed to support families of people sentenced to IPP, and those working with them. The booklet:

  • Reflects on the feelings of injustice, stress and uncertainty that many families feel
  • Provides links and information about a number of relevant issues and processes
  • Identifies more general sources of information that might be particularly helpful
  • And identifies other ways in which families can get involved, and obtain support.

A recurrent theme in my research on the IPP sentence is the sense from many prisoners and their families that they have been forgotten. I hope that this booklet is of practical use. But I also hope that – along with the work being done by the Parole Board, HMPPS and others – it reassures people sentenced to IPP, and their loved ones, that they are not forgotten by everyone. The work to try to make things better for them – often quiet, often frustratingly slow – does continue.

Dr Harry Annison

Southampton Law School | University of Southampton

The ‘Offering a Helping Hand’ booklet is available at:

To request printed copies, please contact Samantha Williams at

If you use the booklet and find it useful, or have other comments, we would be interested to hear from you. Please contact Dr Harry Annison at

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