Ex-soldiers in Prison
Researcher: James Treadwell
Statistics vary, but at present they suggest that between 3% and 10% of the British prison population are ex-forces personnel, with former soldiers the highest occupational culture claimed by prisoners. Some people believe that this might be in part due to the experience of witnessing or being party to traumatic events while in the services, and then later developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Working alongside the Howard League for Penal Reform, this research is looking to find out more information about why it is that former soldiers and military personnel are the highest single former occupational group serving sentences in British prisons. This involves helping the Howard League to devise a research strategy, undertake the fieldwork, and produce findings on former soldiers in prison, forming part of their extensive ‘Inquiry into ex-military personnel in custody’.
There are numerous reports from the USA showing how PTSD and other operational war experiences have impacted upon US military personnel, with research on ex-armed forces and crime stretching back to post Vietnam but including more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this issue has received far less attention in the UK. Initial impressions suggest that the US military appears to be much further ahead in its understanding of the impact of PTSD and better equipped to deal with these issues than the UK.
Others have argued that PTSD might be but one factor that we need to understand, and the link between serving in the forces and appearing in the criminal justice system is much more complicated than simply being to do with battle trauma. With the release of official statistics in 2010 on the number of armed forces veterans in Britain's prisons, a clearer picture is finally beginning to emerge of the number of personnel who leave the armed forces only to end up in prison. According to the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice, approximately 2,500 ex-forces personnel are currently in Britain's jails, making up around 3% of the prison population. However, elsewhere a survey by probation officers' union NAPO last year put the total number in prison at 8,500 – 10% of the prison population. Added to the number on probation or parole, NAPO said the total number of veterans in Britain's criminal justice system was around 20,000, twice as many as are currently serving in Afghanistan.
The truth may well be somewhere in between the two sets of statistics, and official numbers were released with the proviso that they may be subject to increase, when a further study of the data is published in the near future. However, the figures tell us little about the backgrounds of those who are represented, and finding out more about that is an important step forward. Therefore, this important Howard League research involves going into prisons to interview serving prisoners who were once in the armed forces and asking them about their reasons for being in prison. This groundbreaking research will be among the first to provide any real background information on why some people turn to crime when they leave the armed forces, and what might be best done to prevent this.
For further information about this research contact James Treadwell