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Young offenders’ experiences of an indeterminate sentence

Melanie Merola (South Central Psychological Services, HM Prison Service, Aylesbury, UK)

The Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 2050-8794

Article publication date: 9 February 2015




The purpose of this paper was to understand the experience of those living with the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence.


Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to analyse seven interviews with Young Offenders aged 18-21 who were serving an IPP sentence. Two participants were past their tariff expiry date, two had less than a year until their tariff date and three had more than a year until their tariff date.


Several themes were found, each with their own subthemes: Injustice of the Justice System, Not Knowing, Coping, Change and Walking on Eggshells. Participants still detailed negative aspects of the sentence but within this was one, important, positive aspect, namely the inspiration the sentence gave for them to change their offending behaviour. However, this has come at a cost with participants feeling as though they have been treated unfairly, finding it difficult to cope, feeling victimised and finding it difficult to see a future.

Practical implications

Lapses in motivation do not necessarily reflect the risk of the person but the difficulty of the sentence. Motivation can be fostered and developed through motivational interviewing, praise and peer support IPPs should be given more credit for the way they manage themselves daily and more understanding when they struggle. IPPs could be victimised by determinate prisoners or by staff. Establishments should be aware of this and help IPPs resolve situations without feeling like they are a victim. Consideration should be given to converting IPP sentences to determinate sentences.


Previous research focused on the negative aspects of the sentence, the purpose was therefore to approach the situation with an open mind and by using a method that allows those with an IPP sentence to share their experience of the sentence. IPA allowed for exploration of the effects of the sentence on those serving it and therefore gains a further understanding of the impact of the sentence.



The author thanks Rachel O’Rourke for all of her support, excellent advice and guidance.


Merola, M. (2015), "Young offenders’ experiences of an indeterminate sentence", The Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 55-68.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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