Friday, October 26, 2012

Veterans in the Criminal Justice System and Mental Health

Self-harm and Attempted Suicide among UK Armed Forces Personnel

Research through 821 telephone interviews was conducted by the King’s Centre for Military Health Research.  Participants were asked about attempted suicide and episodes of self-harm -

Results indicated a lifetime prevalence of 5.6% for intentional self-harm or attempted suicide.   Intentional self-harm was associated with psychological morbidity (in particular, post-traumatic stress disorder) and adverse experiences in childhood.  Ex-service personnel reported lifetime prevalence more than double that of serving personnel (10.5% vs 4.2%, respectively), indicating that life after service was particularly difficult. 

Importantly, the research indicated that a lifetime prevalence of 5.6% for attempted suicide and self-harm was higher than previous research had suggested.  Furthermore, it highlighted that younger service personnel, those who have experienced adversity in childhood, those with other psychological morbidity and ex-service personnel are more likely to report self-harm behaviours.    

Combat Stress has suggested that we are facing a potential tsunami, with upwards of 50,000 veterans suffering mental health illness.  One is left asking why these increases are occurring and why so many individuals are being failed.   Whilst those with physical injuries are receiving the best possible initial care and support, those with mental health issues are clearly being let down.  As a consequence, many are also experiencing family breakdown, the wider care and health costs of which will continue to rise!

Official Defence Analytical and Advice (DASA) Figures -

The MOJ estimates that approximately 75% - 80% of prisoners suffer with some degree of mental health illness.  This condition is particularly relevant for veterans.

In Sep 10 DASA research indicated that the percentage of military veterans in custody was approximately 4% of the total prison population - 3,500.  This research was based upon two incomplete data base that were not originally intended for cross referencing.  Furthermore, the figures did not include Scotland and NI, Reservists or Early Service Leavers (ESLs).

Critically, the original research represented only a snap shot of the numbers on a given date.  Importantly, it failed to recognise the fluid nature of the prison population with approximately 150,000 prisoners entering and leaving custody each year.  Using the DASA figures against the flow of prisoners, suggests that 6,000 veterans could have entered custody during 2010.   

More recent anecdotal evidence from various prisons suggests that veteran prisons numbers have increased and range between 6% and 8%.   As examples, approximately 11% of prisoners in HMP Leyhill are veterans.   In HMP Exeter there are currently 23 veterans (4.5%), of whom 60% have been diagnosed with PTSD. 

Similar evidence is being identified by Probation.  When recognising an annual 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 annual total entering and leaving the CJS is in excess of 18,000.  Once again, these numbers do not include Scotland, NI, reservists or those less than 18 yrs of age that may include ESLs.  In addition, it is estimated that 10% -12% of the homeless population are veterans.  Many of these will end up being involved in criminal activity and alcohol / substance misuse. 

Armed Forces Covenant - 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.’


The number of veterans suffering with various levels of mental health issues, inflicting self-harm, experiencing family breakdown and entering the criminal justice system is growing and represents a particularly unique group of service users.  The majority have faced significant dangers and pressures, often putting their lives on the line in defence of the country.   Within the spirit enshrined within the Armed Forces Covenant, they and their families deserve better.  Like those with multiple physical injuries, they need access to specialist intervention and rehabilitation programmes, not simply punitive punishment; they have surely been punished enough! 

Providing access to such provision will enable the majority to quickly change their lives, gain employment, re-establish family links and again become the proud and worthy citizens they once were.   In times of severe austerity, it would also provide a relatively simple ‘Win’ ‘Win’ financial outcome.

Veterans Change Partnership

Working in the spirit of the Devon Community Covenant, here in Devon efforts are being made to establish a new partnership, The Veterans Change Partnership, with the aim of providing appropriate re-habilitation courses and alternatives to custody and probation for veterans.  The organisations currently expressing interest include:-

Alabare’ Christian Care and Support
Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust
Devon County Council
Exeter City Council
Devon PCT
Exeter City YMCA
Grow4Good SW Ltd
House of Heroes
Hush Farms Ltd
Job Centre Plus
Life Change Initiative
NOMS / HMP Service
Occombe Farm
PTSD Resolution
St Loyes Trust
The Langley House Trust
Torbay Council
The Warrior Programme

The programme would include an intensive residential phase of personal development, life, functional and social skills training, followed by peer mentored support into accommodation, further training and work.

Recognising veterans and their families as a unique and particularly deserving user group, the concept meets the spirit enshrined within the Military and Community Covenants, the Safer Community Partnership and Families agendas.

Importantly, with their background in training and personal discipline, when placed in the right environment, this group of offenders would be particularly suitable for such a programme, enabling them to quickly return to productive work and lives.

The keys to starting the programme are political support at a local level and initial pump priming finance, all of which is being sought.

No comments: