Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Numbers of Military Veterans in the Justice System continue to Rise


Extract from the MOD web site

‘The Armed Forces Covenant sets out the relationship between the Nation, the State and the Armed Forces. It recognises that the whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the Armed Forces and their families, and it establishes how they should expect to be treated.

It exists to redress the disadvantages that the Armed Forces community faces in comparison to other citizens, and to recognise sacrifices made. In some cases this will require special consideration, especially for those who have given the most such as the injured and the bereaved.

The principle behind the Covenant is that the Armed Forces Community should not face disadvantage because of its military experience. In some cases, such as the sick, injured or bereaved, this means giving special consideration to enable access to public or commercial services that civilians wouldn’t receive. The Covenant covers issues from housing and education to support after Service. It is crucial to the Government that it, and the nation, recognises the unique and immense sacrifices military personnel / veterans have made for their country.’
 
Increasing Numbers of Veterans in the Justice System

Nick Wood is a former senior Prison Officer and national point of contact for all Veterans in Custody (VIC) Support Officers.   He now runs a consultancy business as a Veterans Awareness & Interventions Training Provider.  During his time at HMP Everthorpe (2009 - 2011) he compiled 18 months worth of hard data, making face to face contact with Veterans, whilst also collecting similar data from other VIC Support officers in England and Wales. 

The figures included regulars, reservists and those under 18 who may have left as Early Service Leavers (ESLs).  Over 18 months the average percentage of veterans in HMP Everthorpe was between 5% and 6% of the prison’s numbers.  Figures from other prisons in the Yorks and Humber area were similar. 

More recent figures from various prisons around the country, including HMP Bristol suggest as many as 8% of the prison population are now military veterans.  Of note, approximately 11% of those in HMP Leyhill are veterans.   In HMP Exeter there are currently 23 veterans (4.5%).   60% of these have been diagnosed with PTSD and 20% were convicted within 9-12 months of an operational tour in Afghanistan and or Iraq.  Interestingly, most offences were linked to alcohol.
 
Historically within HMP Doncaster (A Local Remand Prison with a high turnover short duration and average stay approximately 13 weeks) there are on average 30 veterans at any one time.  One of the governors has highlighted a further national problem in identifying veterans.   Many are unwilling to say that they are a veteran; even those attending some of the focus groups in prison stated they wished to keep their identity to themselves when they first arrived:  -  ‘Hero to Zero’ embarrassment; avoiding being targeted by other prisoners; maintaining a 'Grey Man' defence. 

Official Defence Analytical and Advice (DASA) Figures  

In Jun 09 the MOD and MOJ released DASA research figures indicating that the percentage of veterans in custody was 3.5% of the prison population.   In Sep 10 this was revised to 4%. 

Critically, this research was flawed.  It was based upon two incomplete data base that were not originally intended or designed for cross referencing.  Furthermore, the figures did not include Scotland and NI, Reservists or ESLs. 

Importantly, the original research represented only a brief snap shot of the numbers on a given day in Jun 09 and Sep 10.   This failed to recognise that the prison population is fluid with approximately 150,000 prisoners entering and leaving custody each year.   Based upon the Jun 09 DASA figures of 3.5%, this suggests that 5,250 veterans could have entered custody during that year.   Using Mr Wood’s data and an average of 5.5%, that number would rise to approximately 8,250.  To this we need to add those in Scotland and NI + reservists and ESLs. 

When including similar percentages of 5% - 6% as part of the Probation Service Managed Offender Group of 241,000 offenders, the overall numbers of veterans on Community Orders could be as many as 12,000 – 14,000. 

When combining prison and probation numbers, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the average total within the CJS is in excess of 22,000. 

Other Statistics 

Criminal Justice Annual Statistics 

In the 12 months ending March 2012, the annual Criminal Justice Statistics report stated that 1.96 million individuals were given an out of court disposal or proceeded against at court. These figures include Police, Probation, Courts and Prison – see page 4 @  http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/statistics/criminal-justice-stats/criminal-justice-stats-march-2012.pdf

Whilst acknowledging that there will be exceptions and that there will probably be some level of polarisation within the various service user groups, if one applied the DASA 3.5% figures against this data, in theory there could be over 35,000 veterans within the CJS at any one time.   If one then used the 5% - 6% figures, the total could rise to 50,000.   

Once again, such numbers would not include those in Scotland, NI, reservists or those under 18 yrs that may include ESLs.  Either way, the potential numbers are very disturbing and fly in the face of the spirit enshrined within the Armed Forces Covenant.  

Kent Police Study

In 2010 Kent Police conducted a 3 month study during which they arrested 232 ex-service personnel.    73 were for violent offences and just under40% were unemployed.   About four in 10 were aged between 18 and 29. 

In a study of 90 veterans on probation or parole, it was found that one-in-three suffered from chronic alcohol abuse with one-in-ten abused illegal drugs.  

Summary 

The number of veterans within the CJS is significantly higher than that suggested by the MOJ and MOD.  The reasons for individuals entering the CJS are numerous and well documented.  Importantly, many veterans end up within the justice system years after leaving the service.   Faced with this evidence, one is left asking why they are not being adequately supported to avoid such an outcome? 

Within the spirit of the Armed Forces Military Covenant, the state has an obligation to undertake and provide special support and rehabilitation to veterans.  Those with physical injuries are receiving the best possible care and support; however, those with other issues, including mental health, are not. 

Conclusion

The number of military veterans within the CJS is growing and represents a unique group of service users.   Within the spirit enshrined within the Armed Forces Covenant, they both deserve and need access to specialist intervention and rehabilitation programmes.   Providing access to such provision will save large sums of CJS money and enable the majority to quickly change their lives, gain employment and once again become proud and worthy citizens.  It would provide a simple ‘Win’ ‘Win’ outcome for the veterans, their families and the Nation. 

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