On 5th November Albert English (now known as Michael Jackson, but we’ll use his given name for obvious reasons) was ‘jailed indefinitely’ (according to the BBC) for kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 10 year old boy over a three hour period, and kidnapping a 11 year old girl on another occasion. What does that mean?
The usual caveats of not having the full sentencing remarks apply. However, it seems that he was made subject of an IPP with a tariff of seven years. Full details of what the necessary conditions for imposing this sentence are, and what it means in practice, can be found here. But, in essence, this means that the Judge (looking at, amongst other things, the Sexual Offences Guidelines – it’s a long document, see pages 31-34 for the Sexual Assault part) concluded that the appropriate sentence was 14 years imprisonment.
Without having further details of the offences, it is hard to comment on where exactly it fits in the guidelines, but clearly these were very serious offences, aggravated by the other offences committed and it would be surprising if the length of the tariff could be criticised. One thing to note is that the maximum sentence for Sexual Assault is 10 years. We can see therefore that Mr English would have received higher (presumably concurrent) sentences for the other offences.
As stated, the BBC (and other outlets) have reported that Mr English is to be ‘detained indefinitely’ which, to some, would suggest that he will never be released. This is not correct, he will be eligible for release after seven years. He does however appear to be a very dangerous man and, as the Judge noted, the parole board may never decide that it is safe to release him. But even if he does die in prison, that is not because he was sentenced to ‘life without parole’. Some newspapers (the Guardian being a good example) explained the sentence much better, so as to make it clear what the consequences are. Should journalists stop using the terms ‘detained indefinitely’ as it can be misleading?