‘A living hell’ – the untold story of the partner of a man on IPP

It is not just the prisoners who suffer under indefinite sentences

Jacquie Fahy IPP indeterminate sentence

‘No more tears’: Jacquie Fahy has struggled to cope while her partner has served his IPP sentence. Photograph: Victoria Seabrook

“It’s been a living hell. I can’t even begin to tell you how much work it’s been,” says Jacquie Fahy, whose partner is serving an indefinite prison sentence.

“I’ve got paperwork of everybody I’ve written to like that -” she explains, holding one hand almost a foot above the other.

The imprisonment for public protection, or IPP, sentences, hit the headlines last month, when new figures revealed that the rate of self-harm for those serving under them in England and Wales had risen by almost 50 per cent.

The announcement was covered extensively in the media, with many outlets writing about case studies of men languishing in jail under the now abolished sentences. But little was heard from the partners, mothers and loved ones of those men.

Jacquie Fahy’s partner was sentenced in 2005 to just over a year in prison. Now 11 years have passed, and he is still waiting for his release.

“I might as well have been in prison myself for what I’ve gone through with him,” she says. Fahy has spent years writing to MPs, the prison service, the parole board and whoever else she can track down to help her partner towards release. Last month she contacted Prison Watch UK to see if someone else would listen.

Every time their hopes are raised, they get set back again, she says. Either her partner has to enrol on a new course in the prison before being reconsidered for parole, or she gets sent the wrong paperwork.
She was interviewed by the probation service for 40 minutes about his character and their relationship. She claims she was asked things such as ‘if he saw a dog in the street, how would his reaction be towards it?’ Or whether she is frightened of him – whether he is caring and understanding. “It was really bad. It was all personal stuff. Yes, I was scared of saying the wrong thing. They came back and said my expectations were so high of him that he might let me down in life. Then it all went back again.”

The ‘ugly stain’ of IPP indeterminate sentences – comment by The Guardian’s Eric Allison

The couple still don’t have a release date. “He’s still lost in the system. It makes me get upset.” Fahy, so far composed and smiling, begins to cry. She wipes tears from under her eyes and forces a brave smile.

“I’m trying my best. And I’m just a normal girl, at home. There’s not a day goes by I’m not at that computer searching for a way to get help.

“It’s so bad. I can’t give up. I’m all he’s got. I have just got to keep going.”

Her partner has told her there have been times he has been tempted to commit suicide.

“He said if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t live anymore. Just imagine all the other prisoners must feel like that too – that they’d rather die than serve more time. And they’ve already paid the price with their term in jail.

Jacquie Fahy Ipp indefinite sentence

‘I constantly have my phone on me all day and all night. If I missed the call I get scared that something might have happened and then he might just walk out. So you don’t get no rest because you can’t ever relax.’

Severely ill

On the outside, Fahy does not betray signs she has spent years battling the system. She does not look her 46 years of age. She is carefully made up, with long eyelashes, manicured nails and an infectious, if timid smile.

But the fight has taken its toll on her health, she explains: “I’ve got really severely ill over it, I stopped eating because of the stress.” As a result, her bladder shrank and she suffered internal bleeding. She had an operation and still has ongoing treatment, visits her doctor regularly and receives counselling.

“I’ve sent all my medical records to the prison to try to get him moved nearer to me. But no one cares.

“I haven’t even done anything wrong. Yet I’ve been so badly affected.”

It has been a lonely experience too, she says. “When you enter this life, you have no support. Family and friends don’t support you.” Her friends have asked her “is he ever going to get out?”, “how do you know he’s going to behave?” and “why are you devoting your life?”.

“So you do become a loner, because nobody is interested. Just like nobody is interested in him. So it’s just the two of us and then I hide a lot from him to try and make him be good.”


She does not feel able to share a lot of her woes with her partner. She is worried it will upset him and he will misbehave – by shouting, or by being tempted to walk out of the category D prison – and then his parole will be set back even further.

“It’s just horrific. And I just feel that it’s getting worse. He’s in there trying to get out and I’ve got to deal with all this trying to keep it all a secret to protect him. When I haven’t even got a criminal record.”

Even when her partner is released, he will be on a 10 year licence. Meaning if he so much gets drawn into an argument in MacDonalds, she says, he could be recalled to prison.

“The probation lady said to me: ‘you’ve got to make sure he stays on the straight and narrow for the rest of his life.’ Which is quite hard. That commits me.

“But how do you make someone behave for ten years?”

That is why Fahy feels they have no choice but to move out to the countryside, so as to avoid any bad influences or temptations. “For the rest of our lives we cant be near anyone. So I feel like a prisoner myself.”

When asked why she keeps going, in a broken voice Fahy tells me: “Because I love him so much. I am so devoted to him.” She pauses while she wipes away fresh tears from under he eyes. “It upsets me.

“I can’t give up on him. But inside I’m killing myself. Nobody listens to him. I’m trying to do my best. I go to all these things, write letter after letter, speak to all these MPs and high people in the prison. It just goes round and round and round.”

Every new time she reaches out, she hopes someone will listen. But so far, nothing has changed.

What is an IPP sentence?

IPP sentences were introduced in 2005 under Labour. They were designed for serious violent and sexual offenders but ended up being used far more widely than expected.

Offenders sentenced to an IPP have to serve a minimum term (tariff) in prison.

After they had completed their tariff they can apply to the Parole Board for release.

The sentence was abolished in 2012 by then Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who said it was impossible for prisoners to prove that they were no longer a risk, and called IPPs a “stain” on the criminal justice system.

However, roughly 4,000 people who were sentenced under IPP remain in prison.

Have you been affected by IPP? If so we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch: ukprisonwatch@gmail.com

12 Comments on “‘A living hell’ – the untold story of the partner of a man on IPP”

  1. adele picton says:

    Feel the same love my son was 17 he be 29 this year he got 18mths IPP and still there its broke me and our family

    Liked by 1 person

    • carole wilkins says:

      my son was 21 wen he was sentenced to IPP 3 yrs he was sentenced to now 10 yrs later an now 31 an also now a vulnerable person he still remains in prison, the prison he is in tells him they do NOT intend to move him to another one until he has had his parole which isnt until october 2017 an knowing the fact that he still has to complete his self change programme, my son has tried to take his own life 3 times in the past, he self harms an now he has turned to drugs to get him through this hell of a life, he has gone through total hell while in prison, he has been beaten up many times sliced across his face only last yr, his been sexually abused an raped in the past, he suffers with ADHD an is dyslexic, i have emailed wrote phoned many people on his behalf sent his consent along with these explaining that he is dyslexic an i get bk if im lucky to get a reply that he himself has to write into these people, ive been to see my MP about this ive been on many protests to see wot we can do to change the laws an hopefully get the over tariff IPPs released or at least get them a date for their release an to this day nothing has taken place, this is our loved ones life we are talking about i have myself been blackmailed into paying debts for my son, i have had threats if it dose not get paid he will have his life taken away from him, ALL this is wot the IPP has done to my son let alone how many other has it took under its wing so they turn to drugs ? yes my son did deserve a prison sentence but he NEVER deserved an IPP,


      • annette matthews says:

        its about time there was a demonstrrio on the unfairness of ipp sentences anybody interested on doing a march to demonstrate about the unfairness of this sentence when murderers and terrorists get less time


    • annette matthews says:

      its about time there was a demonstrrio on the unfairness of ipp sentences anybody interested on doing a march to demonstrate about the unfairness of this sentence when murderers and terrorists get less time


    • annette matthews says:

      lets march to downing street for the prisoners with no voice,contace me


  2. Kay armstrong says:

    My son is in his 11 th year on a 3 rec all any one says to me he lost in the system I don’t know wat else I can do plz help x


  3. skipi says:

    Im at a hopless loss with my sons ipp sentence !! I was hoping to see him this weekend as he,s hundreds of miles away and my health is not good, but he,s not had a visit in 2 years,
    Only to find out this morning my son is on the block for slashing himself, im in bits he was sobbing so much on the phone saying he cannot take no more!!!
    ive know for months his mood has been low, but the prison don’t want to know, the wont tell me anything when he is ill, he took a breakdown 3 year ago when his father committed suicide,and then the death of his uncle, and my daughters sudden death has took him over the top, they wouldn’t even allow him to go to his sisters funeral !!
    I have several health problems a brain tumour and a severe heart problem, I can hardly walk so for me to do that visit is putting my health at risk, but now im sat here helpless not able to help my boy !!
    He,s nearly 30, he was sentenced to 18 months ipp, hes done over 9 years, he was due a parole hearing in December after they have cancelled several of them for petty reasons, but now they have took my son to crown court, and accused him of a crime he did not commit he had no legal and and the added 6 bloody years to his sentence..Im disgusted!!
    He,s a dam good kid, im serving a sentence with him, he,s all I have left I know my years are limited due to my health, why do they keep him in there his mental health is terrible there driving these men insane..
    I have no help legally no one wants to hear or help us,i fear for my son,s life, he is a wreck of a man to what he was, he been beaten by staff lost several of his belonging ,and also his self respect, hes even developed a stammer sort of condition, where he makes noises when hes talking but they wont let him see a doctor, the prison is a disgrace the treat these lads worse than animals the need a release date befor its to late!!


  4. breda says:

    yes i think we should all get to gether by all i mean all mothers sisters brothers and all relatives of theis ipp prisoners march on downing street to get rid of this inhuman illegal sentance we need hope they only have us to do sooner the better lets get to gether now


    • carole wilkins says:

      morning breda i have been on protests meeting with lords meetings with MPS an still have hope in my body that one day they will release my son that also sits on this ipp sentence he was sentenced to 3 an half yrs along with the ipp, this was back in December 2007 an today he STILL remains in prison, i have wrote to many people in the past i have phoned every prison my son has been in as he suffers with ADHD an never once has he received medication for this it has nothing to do with temper tantrums it is mainly down to his sleep pattern as he does not have one he could sleep for 2/3 hours an then he is up the whole night but to this very day he STILL has NOT been placed on ANY medication what so ever, throughout his yrs the 10 that he has served he has been through hell an back last yr in july is just one example his then girlfriend received a threatening letter from another prisoner stating that if she did not pay money to him then my son would be harmed that letter was allowed to be sent out of the prison, i took it to his probation officer whom then fax it through to the prison swaleside they choose to ignore the fax an the letter that i emailed them pre-warning them that something was going to happen to him, then in august my son was attacked from behind an slashed across his nose an left cheek, i found out 3 days after it took place an then 2 wks ago he was attacked again receiving a black eye, this is just 2 that i would like to mention an again i warned the prison that he was in trouble an again they choose to ignore my warnings so YES a big fat YES i would come along i can not walk far but i will give it a dam gd try, i think my storey alone could turn peoples cheeks if i told the whole of it, sorry for the S.A but the more people that know what really goes on inside those walls the better,


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