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.

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