News Item

Thousands of former veterans in the criminal justice system

A briefing paper published by Napo on 25 September concludes that over 20,000 former veterans are now in the criminal justice system. 


Research shows that 12,000 veterans are on probation or parole and a further 8,500 are in custody.  This represents 8.5% of the prison population and 6% of those on probation and parole.  The information has been supplied by staff in 30 of the 42 probation areas and from 62 offices. 


The study contains the details of 90 case histories of veterans sentenced to community penalties which show that misuse of alcohol or drugs was a major issue in over half the cases.  In addition nearly half were suffering from diagnosed or undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.  The principal offence was one of violence, particularly in a domestic setting.  The vast majority of those referred to Napo did not receive adequate support or counselling according to staff professionals.  Few soldiers reported receiving any counselling on exit from the services and were not routinely identified at the point of arrest or when court reports were written.  Had military experience been picked up at arrest or report stage it is possible that the individuals could have been referred for help and counselling, which would have affected the sentencing outcome and also individual prognosis.


The predominance of use of substantial amounts of alcohol when offences occur suggests that the military services must address this issue as a matter of urgency.  There is also a need to explore the possibility of providing programmes, particularly those that deal with domestic violence, in a military as well as community setting.  There is an urgent need for sufficient advice and support to be available on discharge and a duty placed on criminal justice agencies to refer service personnel to help and counselling where appropriate.


The study finds that the military personnel had served Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan or the Balkans. In many cases the symptoms of stress or depression did not become apparent for many years and included persistent flashbacks, nightmares, an inability to concentrate and paranoia.


Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo said: “it is of grave concern that over 20,000 former military personnel are now in the criminal justice system.  This cannot be acceptable.  There is overwhelming evidence that support is not available of sufficient calibre when soldiers leave the service.  The preponderance of post traumatic stress disorder and depression is also alarming.”


He added: “All efforts must be made to reduce the number of military personnel who are in the criminal justice system through relevant support packages.  There is a need to develop alcohol counselling and domestic violence programmes within the military setting as well as the community.  It should be possible to identify soldiers at the point of arrest, during the compilation of court reports and on reception into prison and refer them to Service agencies.”


Download the full briefing paper


Armed Forces in the CJS - September 2009