Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Damaged Minds - Reducing Re-offending by Ex-Military Personnel

One Hundred military personnel have now been killed in Afghanistan this year. Over the last few months there has rightly been increasing support and recognition for our forces and the professionalism and bravery that they display.

Whilst those killed and suffering multiple physical injuries are remembered and supported, regrettably, little has been said about those returning home suffering with severe injuries of the mind and brain. Because such injuries are not visible to the wider society, support and understanding is often conspicuous by its absence. Many of these men are now struggling to survive, unable to find work, cope with life or let go of the nightmare memories. As a result they often seek escape and solace through substance abuse, particularly alcohol. The practice soon becomes a habit resulting in acts of petty crime and violence. Evidence is indicating that such cases are increasing rapidly and that without support, re-offending rates by these once proud individuals will rise further.

Having experienced the trauma of often daily contact with the enemy and laid their lives on the line in the face of increasing danger, surely these men deserve better than incarceration into our justice and prison system. This cannot be seen as justice and will certainly not reduce the likelihood of them offending again.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Research into Ex-Military Personnel within the CJS

Two major pieces of research into the number of ex-military personnel within the UK's criminal justice system (CJS) are now underway. One is being undertaken by the Howard League for Penal Reform, led by Lord Boyce, the second by Birmingham City University, led by Professor Julian Killingley.

Approximately 20,000 ex-military personnel are believed to be involved within the UK's Justice system - 8,400 in prison (10% of the prison population) and 12,000 on Probation. Many others are believed to be sleeping rough.

Both pieces of research hope to identify specific numbers and the reasons why so many formally highly motivated, disciplined and proud men have succumbed to this situation.

Professor Killingley and his team have already identified numerous reports from the USA showing how PTSD and other operational war experiences have impacted upon US military personnel, this research stretches back to post Vietnam as well as the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Initial impressions suggest that the US military appears to be much further ahead in its understanding and better equipped to deal with these issues than the UK.

Whilst the research will be wide ranging, early evidence is suggesting that excessive use of alcohol by some UK military personnel as a means of stress relief may be a contributing factor, often leading to dependency and domestic violence.

Anyone with personal experiences and information regarding this research is encouraged to contribute by contacting me via this blog or the Life Change UK web site. If requested, information will be dealt with and passed to the two research teams in confidence.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Napo Report on Armed Forces and the Criminal Justice System

The Assistant General Secretary of Napo recently wrote a report describing the number of ex-military personnel currently in the criminal justice system. In the report he said - "A survey conducted by Napo during the summer of 2009 found that 12,000 former armed service personnel were under the supervision of the Probation Service in England and Wales on either community sentences or on parole.

Research published by Napo last year found that 8,500 former veterans were in custody at any one time in the UK, following conviction of a criminal offence.

There are therefore twice as many veterans in the criminal justice system than are currently serving in military operations in Afghanistan. Indeed the total number of men and women in active service in all locations on 31-05-09 was 13,400 (not including Iraq).

Napo’s survey would suggest therefore that at least 6% of those currently under supervision are former veterans. The custodial study of 2008 concluded that 8.5% of the prison population had an armed service record. Previous studies by the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence had found that the proportion of those in prison with a service record varied from between 4-6% (Home Office) to 16.7% (MOD). A 2007 study carried out by Veterans in Prison, based on prisoners self certification, concluded that 9% of all inmates were veterans.


The current and previous briefings produced by Napo suggest there are at least as 20,000 former Services personnel, either in jail, on parole or on community supervision. This is twice as many as on active service in Afghanistan. Indeed the numbers in the entire criminal justice system exceed all soldiers on active service by some 6,000. The most common offence is violence occurring in a domestic setting. Most are either drug or alcohol related. Most of those convicted report problems of adjusting to civilian life and the lack of available support. Many report negatively of the effect of the culture of heavy drinking in the armed forces.

Napo believes that the situation is unacceptable, that active steps need to be taken to offer both support on discharge from the forces and referral to relevant agencies if individuals do entre the criminal justice system.

The case studies show the extreme difficulties that some veterans experience in making the transition from active service to employment in the community. Support packages would not only be in the public interest but would safe the taxpayer significant sums of money in the medium and long term.

A number of specific steps could be taken to reduce the number of veterans who find themselves within the criminal justice system.
• All reasonable steps should be taken to reduce the number of men sentenced to custody or community penalties who had previously been in the armed forces and experienced trauma and stress.

• Information and referral services should be provided to ex-armed services personnel on arrest, at report writing stage and on reception into custody.

• Armed services personnel should receive information and education on the benefits of stress counselling in general and be given support where it is appropriate.

• Napo fully supports the work of the Prison In-Reach Project, sponsored by the MOD, and urges that its activities be prioritised by government.

• The government should provide stress counselling on site and on return from active service for all armed services personnel

• The Armed Services must address the effects of alcohol and drug misuse by personnel and provide adequate help and support.

• Programmes must be readily available in military and community settings to deal with the consequences of domestic violence and other probation programmes should be made widely available to the forces.

• Consideration should be given to the creation of an Armed Forces Inspectorate with powers to carry out thematic reports into issues of public concern.

• Consideration should be given to creating a Services Representation Body, similar in function to that which exists for the ranks in the Police.

Until the government admits that it does have a real problem in terms with veterans in the criminal justice system and the lack of support and referral it is difficult to see how interested parties can embark on solutions".

Harry Fletcher
Assistant General Secretary

September 2009

The report again higlights our apparent failure to support ex-military personnel, particularly those suffering with PTSD and other mental health issues post their return to civilian life. The full report can be found at 'Articles and Reports' on the left of this blog and at http://www.lifechangeuk.com/reports-evaluations/ .

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Positve Outcomes from Alabare's Work with Ex-Military Personnel

In previous blog posts I highlighted the positive work of the Royal British Legion (RBL) and Alabare Christian Care supporting military veterans in Plymouth. So far fifteen ex-military personnel have experienced the support from the 'Mon Abri'(Safe Haven) half-way house and its staff. Of these, seven have subsequently left and rejoined society to forge new lives, three returning to their family home.

All had previously experienced military conflict in one or more recent operations - Northern Ireland, Falklands, Balkans, Cyprus, Gulf War and Iraq. Most were previously suffering with various levels of PTSD, depression, substance misuse and personality disorder; two had been suicidal. With the current scale of operations in Afghanistan, the number of military veterans suffering similar symptoms is anticipated to grow significantly.

A failure to provide similar support will inevitably result in many ex-military personnel eventually entering the criminal justice system with its increasing associated costs and waste of otherwise productive lives - (currently 20,000 of which 8,400 are in prison).

The anecdotal evidence is clearly demonstrating that the Plymouth project is effective and if delivered on a larger scale in other parts of the country would ensure that many other military veterans could be helped. One of the former clients is Adrian. He admitted that it had taken hard work to get where he is now, but without the support of Mon Abri staff and the RBL/SAAFA, he is not sure he would have made it. Other former residents have made similar claims.

With 5 homes, each with 7 bedspaces, Alabare anticipates supporting 70 people per year / 350 over 5 years. For this and the improvement of its existing drop in centres, floating support services and training services, it has has estimated the total funding required is £4.8m. Compare that with the cost of prison @ £40,000 per person per annum, with a 60% re-offending rate and all the associated costs - more crime, cost to victims, police, courts, health, probation, prison and ongoing unemployment, housing and other benefit payments. If we are to reduce re-offending and provide the support needed for those ex-military veterans who temporarily fall by the wayside, this model has surely set the precedent required. Let us hope the Government will support it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

An Urgent Need to Reduce Re-offending by Ex-military Personnel

Today's announcement that over 20,000 ex-military personnel are currently within the UK’s criminal justice system must surely be seen as a disturbing indictment of our failure to care for those who have laid their lives on the line for their country.

The differences in attitudes are far reaching. On the one-hand crowds lining our streets with people openly weeping as bodies are returned home from Afghanistan, whilst on the other, being prepared to see men and women suffering from the traumas of war being incarcerated without appropriate treatment and support.

There is now an urgent need to address this damaging situation. Whilst not for one moment suggesting that crime by ex-military personnel is to be condoned, I am suggesting that most, owing to the trauma of war, represent a special case, deserving of special treatment. Critically, if we are to reduce the likelihood of their re-offending, we must address their wide ranging personal needs; prison and a lack of such support will not achieve this, and like many others within the justice system, they will inevitably go on to cost the country many millions of pounds in the future. Such a waste would be tragic.

In a previous blog below, dated 18 Aug 09, I highlighted the work of Alabaré Christian Care and the Royal British Legion in a half-way house in Plymouth where ex-military personnel are given the support needed and assisted back into full and productive lives. With the numbers of ex-military personnel in the justice system expected to grow significantly over the next few years, there is now an urgent need to provide more examples of such provision.

It has been suggested that there is insufficient money, yet by not making such provision we will continue to waste millions of pounds each year. By joining up the funding from public and charity sources the net cost to each would be relatively small, yet the net gain to society would be massive. With money from Health, Job Centre Plus, DWP, the Justice System, Local Authorities, Help for Heroes, Regimental funds and other charities, rapid provision could be made, all of which would not only serve to support those already in the justice system, but importantly help to divert those who are struggling. Surely our military personnel deserve more.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Addressing the Needs of Juvenile Offenders

Yet more research is showing that custody fails to address the underlying needs of juvenile offenders.

Sydney Morning Herald Report - 23 Sep 09

A new study from Australia reveals that locking up juvenile offenders has no greater deterrent effect on the rate of re-offending than lesser non-custodial penalties.

The finding contradicts earlier studies, one which found juveniles given custodial sentences were more likely to re-offend and another which found lower reoffending rates for jailed car thieves but higher rates for those locked away for other offences.

The latest study, released on Wednesday by the Australian Institute of Criminology, involved a detailed assessment of 152 juvenile offenders given detention sentences and 243 handed a non-custodial sentence, all in NSW.

All were interviewed at length about family life, school performance, drug abuse and association with delinquent peers.

The study indicates that, other things being equal, juveniles given custodial orders are no less likely to reoffend than juveniles given non-custodial orders.

The study found about half of each group re-offended during the follow-up period, with mean time to re-conviction about five months.

Of note, various non-custodial programs are proving to be very effective in reducing juvenile recidivism.

The key to reducing re-offending is to change the 'thinking and feelings' of the offender. Achieve this and we change the 'behaviour'. As shown in many other studies, owing to the impact of damaging experiences in life, juvenile offenders tend to have very negative thoughts and feelings about themselves and others, hence their behaviour.

Prison often reaffirms the thoughts that the individual is worthless, promoting feelings of anger and frustration. Only by accessing positive thoughts and feelings can the process of change be realised. Place an individual in a safe environment, build their confidence and self-esteem and watch the behaviour change. It is one of the most basic needs of us all.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

HMP Isle of Wight (Parkhurst) works to help ex- servicemen in prison

Led by Prison Officer Dave Wilson – formally 2nd Bn Scots Guards, prison officers in Parkhurst prison have set up a new group called the Veterans in Prison Association (VIPA). The Association supports our ex-forces personnel who have for one reason or another found themselves in prison. Currently run on a voluntary basis by other ex-forces prison officers, they recognise that for the majority, the prisoners are often there as a consequence of their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As part of the process, the ex-forces prisoners meet regularly in order to talk through their problems and, when deemed appropriate, to put them in contact with specialist agencies to help with ongoing mental health problems.

Offering support and guidance to the prisoners, officers are endeavouring to work with agencies such as Veterans Welfare, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, the Royal British Legion and Combat Stress. More recently, VIPA has also been attempting to engage the various Regimental Associations.

This is a most important initiative and deserves as much support as possible. With additional mentor support from members of the various Regimental Associations and the Royal British Legion, the ex-military offenders can be helped back to a full and productive life. Let us hope that the government and Regimental Associations back these admirable efforts.

For more information go to - http://www.veteransinprisonassociation.co.uk/

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reducing Re-offending by Ex-Servicemen

On the 18th of this month, in a previous blog (see below), I drew attention to the plight of an estimated 8,500 ex-service personnel who are now held in prison. Interestingly, today within the Prison estate there are currently over 8,865 more people than it is designed to hold.

With the overcrowding, the government is urgently seeking ways to reduce the number of offenders locked up. Providing an alternative for our ex-service personnel, the majority of whom committed crime following the physical and mental impact of numerous operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, would clearly be one simple solution. With the current suppport of so many members of the general public, ex-service Regimental Associations and charities, many of these formally loyal and proud individuals could be helped back to a full and productive life, whilst at the same time easing the strain within our prisons.

If you think this is a good idea, please register your support via this blog; thank you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Changing Lives Together - 'Fusion'

Fusion is a project tackling the causes of anti-social behaviour and crime whilst also improving the positive image of young people in society. It is a cross-sector partnership, funded by Devon County Council, forming a collaborative approach to the provision of positive activities, personal development and opportunities for young people to share their talents in ways that benefit them and the community, whilst also providing capacity and support for organisations, community leaders and families.

The organisations involved include DAISI (Devon Arts in Schools Initiative), The IVY Project (Engaging young people in volunteering), Young Devon (Leading the project and campaigning alongside and for young people), Life Change UK (Providing staff training in the managment of challenging behaviour), YPoD, (A youth led body ensuring that young people's views remain central to the project), Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue (Providing a Firesetter Intervention programme), Devon Racial Equality Council, and Devon and Cornwall Police.

Having identified a number of hot spots in the County, the project members are providing a range of activities and mentor support to many young people and their families, including peer education in addressing alcohol misuse, all of which is helping to reduce offending and anti-social behaviour.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Re-offending by former Servicemen - Another way

In my previous blog I drew attention to the number of ex-military personnel in prison. Today the MOD announced that in addition to the 204 deaths in Afghanistan, over the last 18 months nearly 500 personnel had been physically injured. What has not been announced were the number who, as a consequence of their injuries and experiences, are now suffering with depression, PTSD and other forms of severe mental health issues.

Sadly, the fall-out from these injuries (physical and mental) will be that many individuals will fail to gain alternative employment and inevitably become further depressed and involved in alcohol, drug misuse, violence and crime. The net outcome will be a further increase in ex-service personnel in our prisons - currently 8,500 out of a total of 84,000 (10%).

If we are to reduce re-offending these individuals must be seen as a special case with special provision and an alternative to prison. In Plymouth, the Royal British Legion and has entered into a partnership with AlabarĂ© Christian Care, providing a supported house for up to 8 ex-servicemen who are experiencing such personal problems. This must surely be the way forward. With housing currently more affordable and the need growing, such provision will also be more economical - the cost of keeping the 8,500 service personnel in custody is estimated to be approximately £215 million pound a year; this is projected to increase significantly over the next 5 to 15 years. For that type of money hundreds of half-way houses could be purchased, each accommodating 10 people - the size of the prison population would be reduced significantly, freeing up resources to deal with other offenders and the reduction of re-offending. Importantly, with the ongoing support by trained volunteer mentors from military and Regimental Associations, and funding from both public and charitable sources, the vast majority of those ex-service people in need would soon be helped back into a purposeful life.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ex-military Personnel enter the Criminal Justice System post Operations in Afghanistan

Approximately 8,500 ex-forces personnel are currently in prison owing to a multitude of offences, primarily drug, alcohol and violence related. It has been estimated that these figures could double in the next 5 to 15 years due to individuals suffering from PTSD and other health problems following repeated operational tours in Afghanistan.

Whilst we hear about the deaths of our servicemen and women in Afghanistan, rarely do we hear about the very large numbers suffering physical injuries and mental trauma. The latter is particularly difficult to measure; however, the reality is that levels of depression and PTSD experienced by service personnel and their families is profound, often resulting in family break up and increasing alcohol and drug abuse. Many subsequently leave the service and return to civilian life, this time alone, confused and more frightened than when they were on operations.

Combat Stress and other charity groups are working hard to help address these issues. Notwithstanding, many servicemen find themselves unemployed, angry, depressed, confused and in ill-health, with increasing numbers entering the criminal justice system. Is this how we are to repay our servicemen and their families for putting their lives on the line?

With a relatively small investment, most could be helped to regain their former pride, confidence and self-respect, once again becoming valuable members of society. Will society take on this challenge or will we rest on our laurels and hope that others will do it for us?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Stand up Tall Project Widens the Debate

Stand up Tall is a new initiative promoting further debate and discussion around how we are to reduce re-offending and promote increased inclusion. With thoughts covering a wide range of associated issues, for those interested in contributing to a process of much needed social change, this site is worth watching and supporting - http://www.standuptallproject.org.uk/

Monday, March 23, 2009

'Locked Up Potential', - The Centre for Social Justice publishes it report on Prison Reform

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) today launched its report for Prison Reform. Recognising that the current provision is failing badly, the report widens the debate with proposals for radical change within the Justice System, including the provision of local Community Prison and Rehabilitation Trusts (CPRTs). Modelled on NHS Trusts, the new CPRTs will be given responsibility for the provision of local prisons, the delivery of joined up programmes of rehabilitation and the overall reduction of re-offending within their areas.

For anyone interested in seeing real change and improvements in the reduction of re-offending and the saving of millions of pounds and many thousands of wasted lives, the full report is highly recommended. It can be accessed via the CSJ website at http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/ or via the link at the Comment and Opinion section on the right side of this page.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Royal British Legion and Alabare Christain Care - Reducing re-offending by ex- Service Offenders and Homeless Men

The Royal British Legion in Devon has entered into an exciting partnership with Alabare Christian Care to open a small residential half-way house for ex-offenders and homeless men who previously served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

Based in Plymouth and supported by other national and local charitable agencies, the home provides a safe and supportive environment for those former service personnel who have, for various reasons, become homeless and caught up in the criminal justice system. With sufficient accommodation for up to 7 residents, the home is setting a standard in enabling individuals to re-establish and forge new lives.

With support from key workers, residents are given the opportunity to work through their various issues, including examples of PTSD, depression, alcohol addiction, family breakup and a lack of personal self-worth. During my visit there today, residents described how, because of their service backgrounds, experiences and understanding, they are able to provide each other with meaningful peer support, yet still take responsibility for their own actions.

Importantly, the very positive outcomes being achieved will not only save mens lives, but also save the country hundreds of thousands of pounds that would otherwise inevitably be spent by the criminal justice system, Department of Health, DWP, Job Centre Plus and Local Authorities. When acknowledging such long-term costs and the increasing price that service men, women and their families are paying whilst serving their country in places such as Afghanistan, the establishment of many more similar homes has surely got to be the way ahead.

Hopefully, such initiatives will in future see increasing contributions of public sector funding, this being in the true spirit of the Government's calls for community based partnerships and innovative alternatives to custody.

In the meantime, more information can be found at the Alabare web site - http://www.alabare.co.uk/Monabri.php and press release - http://www.alabare.co.uk/RBLPlymouth12Jan09release.php

or by contacting: -

The Royal British Legion
Devon County Office
Aldens Business Court
7a Chudleigh Road
Devon EX2 8TS
Tel: 01392 273111

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brain Cells: Listening to prisoner learners - A New Report

41% of prisoners who fail to complete educational courses say it is due to being moved to another prison. That's just one of the findings in Brain Cells. This new report, published on 5th March 2009, is the result of a survey of prisoners about their experiences of learning in prison. Brain Cells is a collaboration between Prisoners Education Trust, Inside Time, the newspaper for prisoners, and consultants, RBE.

The report can be read at the Prisoners' Education Trust under our Articles and Reports on the left of this page.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A journey of 'Change' for our Young Offenders and our Justice System

This week young people of the UK were described as the most unhappy in the western world. Against that background, the Finish justice system (with only 3 of its children curently locked up) and Denmark's innovative deployment of highly trained Pedegogs were featured as leading the way in work with marginalised young people and young offenders. Similarly, those who have read this blog before will have noted the short article I wrote on 5 Dec 08 covering a recent trip to Slovenia and the inspiring work being delivered with many of its young offenders. If you have not read it yet, please do; just scroll down this page.

Whilst acknowledging that many of our Youth Offending Teams are attempting to deliver innovative work, with all the evidence from other countries I am again left asking why it is that as a country we appear unwilling to acknowledge that, for the most part, we have got it wrong. Do we really think that our children and young people are so different to those in other countries that punishment and ciminalising them is the only way to promote personal change? When will we find the courage to bit the bullet and start to increase our investment in our marginalised and excluded young people, empowering them to become future net contributors to our society rather than future long-term debtors?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Mentor Training in Addressing Challenging Behaviour

An Exciting New Concept in Staff Development & Support

Work with offenders, those described as NEETs, long-term unemployed adults and other marginalised and de-motivated individuals is a major focus of government policy. As a result, the need to manage challenging behaviour is increasingly recognised as an essential part of the teacher / trainer / supervisor skill set; however, the topic is rarely adequately addressed and newly qualified staff (Prison, Probation, YOT staff, Teachers and Trainers) often enter the workplace ill prepared. Many subsequently leave the profession or move to other learning environments where such behaviour and stress is less apparent. The associated costs are enormous.

In association with SWitch and Learning South West, in February and March 2009, Life Change UK will deliver 2 x 2-day pilot Mentor courses which will explore the causes of challenging behaviour and identify a range of strategies and interventions that encourage positive change.

The training, which is funded by SWitch, will enable participants to subsequently mentor peers and less experienced members of staff in the motivation of offenders / students and the management of challenging behaviour.

The training will promote peer mentoring and enhanced staff supervision within the work place by: -

· Identifying the components of ‘Core Beliefs’ and their impact on behaviour.

· Improving understanding on a range of behaviours and how to respond to them.

· Enhancing communication skills and learning how to build rapport to promote positive behaviour.

· Increasing understanding of the ways in which interactions with learners require different professional boundaries.

· Providing an opportunity to explore strategies and interventions that reduce stress, inform practice and increase confidence when working within a challenging environment.

Two months after each course, participants will be invited to attend a one-day follow-up group workshop where experiences of good practice will be shared. Over the period of the project, advice on urgent issues and mentoring support will be available to participants by telephone from Life Change UK staff.

The high demand for places on the courses further demonstrates the need for such training. An evaluation report of the training will be produced in July. Hopefully, having demonstrated the benefits, further funding will be made available for additional courses.