Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The IEP System

One of the biggest changes to life in prison in recent years has been the revision of the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system. First introduced in 1995, the IEP system is basically a system set up to 'reward' good behaviour - and to exert control over prisoners. It covers what privileges and personal possessions a prisoner is permitted to have and how much private cash they are allowed to spend per week. You can download the whole document from the Ministry of Justice website:

In 2013, a revised IEP system was introduced via Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 30/2013 which entered into operation on 1 November 2013. In addition to the three previous IEP levels of Basic, Standard and Enhanced, the revised system added a fourth: Entry level for all new receptions, as well as prisoners previously held on remand who were subsequently convicted after 1 November 2013.

Prison sweater
Basic level is deliberately designed to be a miserable way of life. Prisoners are forced to wear prison-issue clothing, are denied most personal possessions and are usually not permitted to rent a small portable TV set. In addition, in many prisons inmates on Basic aren't permitted much time out of their cells (for association with other prisoners) and, unless they have a job or are participating in an education course, can find themselves 'banged up behind their doors' (locked in their cells) for up to 23-hours a day. They are also only allowed to spend a maximum of £4.00 per week from their own money (if they have any, that is).

Rented cell TV
Entry level is supposed to last for only the first two weeks of a prisoner's sentence. It's the new level introduced from 1 November 2013 and has many of the characteristics of being on Basic level, particularly having to wear prison-issue clothing. Originally, hardliners in the Ministry of Justice were planning to ban new receptions on Entry level from renting portable TV sets from the prison (cost £1 per week in a single cell, 50p each in a double). However, it was pointed out that since the induction period for new prisoners is a time of high risk of suicide and self-harm, denying access to television was probably not a sensible move. The idea was then quietly kicked into the long grass. 

Assuming a new reception behaves and participates in the Induction process (a series of talks and lectures about prison routine, rules and processes), then at the end of the two week period, they should move automatically onto Standard level. However, don't get too excited. Some local prisons still don't allow prisoners on Standard level to wear their own clothes, reserving that as a special privilege for Enhanced level prisoners, along with being permitted to purchase a cheap DVD player from the Argos catalogue.

Getting onto Enhanced level is definitely easier in some establishments than others. Prior to the introduction of PSI 30/2103 all that was really necessary was good behaviour for a period of two to three months. However, now a minimum of three months is set down before a prisoner can be considered for 'promotion' to Enhanced level. Also, it's now required that the prisoner is actively contributing to their own rehabilitation and helping others (ie as a peer mentor, Insider, Listener, Toe by Toe scheme literacy mentor or some similar activity). As these roles are often very few and far between, Enhanced level could well become an unattainable goal for many prisoners.

Advert for Toe by Toe Mentors
Moreover, if you are a prisoner who is maintaining innocence and have already exhausted your appeals, then getting Enhanced (or even keeping Standard) may be an uphill battle. I know quite a few current inmates who have lost their Enhanced - not because of any misbehaviour, but solely because they are maintaining innocence without having a live appeal. The reason for this policy change is disputed, but in general it comes down to being able to participate in Offending Behaviour programmes, for which an initial 'analysis of offence' is required. Prisoners maintaining innocence often feel that they can't just make a false confession in order to tick these boxes, so end up in conflict with their internal probation officer (the Offender Supervisor) and this often leads to demotion from Enhanced status.

What is new is that under the old PSI 11/2011, prisoners maintaining innocence who did not have a current appeal were able to attain and keep Standard level. Now that is in doubt, even though the PSI does state that prisoners maintaining innocence should not be automatically excluded. It all comes down to the individual prisoner's sentence plan. If that includes participation in Offending Behaviour programmes, then failing to do so is likely to be interpreted as a failure to follow the sentence plan. Result: demotion to Standard or even Basic level. 

Another key element of the current IEP system is that it is designed to prevent families and friends (and even outside support organisations) from sending the prisoner anything other than letters and cards. In the past, some prisons allowed prisoners to have clothing, books and a small range of other items sent in from home, or more commonly ordered via Amazon for delivery to the prisoner. This had already been stopped in many prisons prior to 1 November 2013, although some establishments were more liberal. Now there is virtually no local discretion for prison governors, although some prisons will still permit prisoners who are new receptions to have a parcel of private clothing posted in (or handed in during a family visit) at the end of the Entry level period.

That, in a nutshell, is the IEP system in UK prisons.

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