Guidance

Ex-armed service personnel in prison and on probation

A summary of evidence relating to ex-armed services personnel in prison and on probation and how services can improve outcomes for them.

This page aims to:

  • present up to date research about what we know about the characteristics of ex-armed service personnel (ex-ASP) involved with the UK criminal justice system
  • provide current estimates of the numbers of ex-ASP in the UK criminal justice system
  • summarise approaches and interventions that can improve outcomes for ex-ASP in custody and under community supervision
  • summarise the current national policy and practice background

What do we know?

Life in the armed forces is generally a positive experience and a protective factor. Ex-armed service personnel are less likely to commit crime than the general population.

There is only limited evidence about their needs and experiences in the criminal justice system. The available evidence tells us that:

  • The vast majority of those leaving the armed forces in the UK transition successfully into civilian life 1. However, a small, but significant minority face challenges to their transition, for example, contact with the criminal justice system, mental health problems and alcohol misuse.
  • Ex-ASP who come into contact with the criminal justice system differ from those who have not served in the armed forces. They have different health and wellbeing needs and offending behaviour patterns 2.
  • Ex-ASP can experience stigmatising beliefs from learned military conduct and mutual reliance. These can hinder help-seeking behaviours 3,4.
  • Government statistics estimate approximately 3.5% - 4% in custody and on community orders are ex-ASP. But external estimates have reported that the proportion of ex-ASP in the prison population range from 3.5% and 17% 5,6.
  • Recently published experimental statistics Ex-service personnel in the prison population suggest that since January 2015, of the 50,983 prison receptions, an estimated 2,032 (4%) had indicated they had served in our armed forces. However, about 192 of these were foreign nationals who may be self-identifying having served with the UK forces, or another country.

What does the evidence say?

Studies7 suggest that ex-ASP in in contact with the UK criminal justice system (in custody and under community supervision):

  • are more likely to be male, white and older on average than those who had not served in the armed forces
  • are more likely to have qualifications, and the experience of secure employment
  • have similar practical needs, like accommodation and finance issues compared to those who have not served in the armed forces, but they report lower needs for issues like drug addiction
  • are more likely to be recorded as having experienced (often multiple and co-existing) mental health issues, harmful or hazardous drinking, and physical health problems
  • ex-ASP status is associated with higher levels of interpersonal violence, motoring offences, anxiety disorders and hazardous drinking patterns
  • anxieties over identity, stigma and loss of a sense of belonging often result in ex-ASP experiencing social isolation and disconnection/ adaptation disorders in civilian life, these are more common than the overused PTSD explanation of behaviour 8,9,10,11,12

Social exclusion, stigma and social isolation

A small study of ex-ASP in prison found social isolation was frequently experienced after leaving the armed services13. Extreme social exclusion experienced by some veterans’ on leaving service has also been found14. This was often due to the reduced support network available.

  • 71% of ex-ASP on community sentences reported problems adjusting to life outside the military
  • 53% of ex-ASP with problems adjusting, felt part of the military but not civilian community
  • 42% did not feel part of either community

Some also felt they had another identity: that of an offender15. It is also suggested that ex-ASP in the criminal justice system have conflicting identities, one positive as ex-ASP, and the other the negative identity of being an offender.

Anxieties over identity, stigma and loss of a sense of belonging are reported to result in a social disconnection in civilian life. These are increasingly correlated with problems in transition for veterans, including contact with the criminal justice system16,17,18,19,20.

Improving outcomes for ex-armed service personnel

These things can improve outcomes for ex-ASP in custody and under community supervision:

  • a mental health assessment
  • access to education and resettlement services
  • access to alcohol misuse services
  • mentoring services provided by ex-ASP charities

It is becoming increasingly accepted that ex-ASP respond to and are motivated to engage with armed service specific services and activities and/or staff who are ex-ASP themselves, or show an understanding of military service21.

Further reading

Over the last decade significant progress has been made to recognise the specific needs of ex-ASP in the UK criminal justice system. National policies, practice and structures means that a wide range of resources are available:

  • Ministry of Justice published data on new prison receptions. A breakdown for ex-ASP prison receptions is at Table 2.7.
  • The UK Armed Forces Covenant (2011) outlines legal responsibility for support and treatment to serving and ex-ASP. The aim is to ensure this population faces no disadvantage as a resulting from their military service. Every local authority in mainland Britain has signed the Armed Forces Covenant.
  • Government undertook a review of ex-ASP in the criminal justice system(Phillips, 2014). This established screening for ex-ASP status for everyone entering prison in the UK. Development of wider health services has been driven by the Murrison report ‘Fighting Fit’ (Murrison 2010).
  • The Health and Social Care Act 2012 sets out local authorities’ legal duties to assess needs and eligibility for care and support. Local government and health authorities have a statutory duty to recognise and reflect the needs of ex-ASP. Health and wellbeing needs of the Armed Forces Community are reflected in local Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNAs); and Health and Wellbeing (HWB) Strategies or Single Integrated Plans. Armed Forces Covenant partnerships comprise of local authorities, the armed forces community, businesses and local communities. A Head of Public Health, Armed Forces and their Families and Health & Justice Commissioning has been appointed. A Mental Health Task Force exists to develop a range of appropriate services. (NHS Health Care for Veterans 2018).
  • There are also more than two thousand charities in the UK which aim to assist ex-ASP. (Phillip, 2014).
  • ‘A Guide to Working with Veterans in Custody’ was published to help criminal justice practitioners engage with ex-ASP. The National Offender Management Service. HMPPS (formerly NOMS) launched the Veterans in Custody Support (VICS) model. This was adopted as best practice by the MOD and MOJ and rolled out across the prison estate. Although a lack of consistent application has been identified (Phillips, 2014; HMIP, 2014).
  • Individual Probation/ CRC areas have conducted local initiatives. MacDonald (2014)
  • ‘Profile of Provision for Armed Forces Veterans under Probation supervision’ (Ford et al., 2017). This looks at the impact of probation reforms on the continued lack of evidence about effective ways of addressing veterans’ specific needs whilst under a community supervision order.
  • Short et al 2018 identifies specific needs of ex-ASP in the criminal justice system from Liaison and Diversion services. It identified 1,067 as ex-ASP between April 2015 to April 2016. This reinforces many of the findings from the 2014 MoJ Analytical summary. The strength of the more recent study is its large sample size, especially the comparison group. This increases the generalisability of the findings. Using arrest rather than conviction records may better reflect the actual crime committed.
  • Rapid Evidence Assessment of the needs of ex-service personnel in the criminal justice system (MoJ 2014)
  • Analytical Summary Evidence from two surveys of the needs of ex-service personnel in the criminal justice system (MoJ 2014)
  • People in prison: Ex-service personnel HMIP findings paper (March 2014) Ex-Service Personnel Supplementary Paper Veteran data from HMIP Surveys(Sep 2014)
  • Government consultation Paper. Strategy for our veterans. (November 2018)
  • Community Innovations Enterprise (2015) Call to Mind report commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust and NHS England.

References

  1. Lord Ashcroft (2014) The Veterans’ Transition Review London, Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC.
  2. Short, R., Dickson, H., Greenberg, N., & MacManus, D. (2018) Offending behaviour, health and wellbeing of military veterans in the criminal justice system
  3. Short, R., Dickson, H., Greenberg, N., & MacManus, D. (2018) Offending behaviour, health and wellbeing of military veterans in the criminal justice system
  4. Treatment barriers and support for male ex-armed forces personnel in prison: professional and service user perspectives. Qualitative health research, 27(5), 759-769. Wainwright, V., McDonnell, S., Lennox, C., Shaw, J., & Senior, J. (2017)
  5. MacManus, D., and Wood, N. (2017) The ex-armed forces offender and the UK criminal Justice system, in Hacker-Hughes, J. (Ed) Military veteran Psychological Health and Social Care: Contemporary issues, Routledge, London
  6. Short, R., Dickson, H., Greenberg, N., & MacManus, D. (2018)
  7. Short, R., Dickson, H., Greenberg, N., & MacManus, D. (2018) MacManus, D., and Wood, N. (2017)
  8. Hatch, S. L., Harvey, S. B., Dandeker, C., Burdett, H., Greenberg, N., Fear, N. T., & Wessely, S. (2013). Life in and after the Armed Forces: social networks and mental health in the UK military. Sociology of health & illness, 35(7), 1045-1064
  9. Brunger, H., Serrato, J., & Ogden, J. (2013). “No man’s land”: the transition to civilian life. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 5(2), 86-100
  10. Bergman, B. P., Burdett, H. J., & Greenberg, N. (2014). Service life and beyond–institution or culture?. The RUSI Journal, 159(5), 60-68
  11. Ahern, J., Worthen, M., Masters, J., Lippman, S.A., Ozer, E. J., & Moos, R. (2015). The challenges of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans’ transition from military to civilian life and approaches to reconnection. PLOS One, 10(7), e0128599
  12. Cooper, L., Caddick, N., Godier, L., Cooper, A., & Fossey, M. (2018). Transition from the military into civilian life: An exploration of cultural competence. Armed forces & society, 44(1), 156-177
  13. (Howard League 2011)
  14. Lord Ashcroft (2014) The Veterans’ Transition Review
  15. MacDonald (2014) An exploration of the Veteran Cohort within Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust. Managing military identity within the Criminal Justice System, ideas for the future.
  16. Hatch, S. L., Harvey, S. B., Dandeker, C., Burdett, H., Greenberg, N., Fear, N. T., & Wessely, S. (2013). Life in and after the Armed Forces: social networks and mental health in the UK military. Sociology of health & illness, 35(7), 1045-1064
  17. Brunger, H., Serrato, J., & Ogden, J. (2013). “No man’s land”: the transition to civilian life. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 5(2), 86-100
  18. Bergman, B. P., Burdett, H. J., & Greenberg, N. (2014). Service life and beyond–institution or culture?. The RUSI Journal, 159(5), 60-68
  19. Ahern, J., Worthen, M., Masters, J., Lippman, S.A., Ozer, E. J., & Moos, R. (2015). The challenges of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans’ transition from military to civilian life and approaches to reconnection. PLOS One, 10(7), e0128599
  20. Cooper, L., Caddick, N., Godier, L., Cooper, A., & Fossey, M. (2018). Transition from the military into civilian life: An exploration of cultural competence. Armed forces & society, 44(1), 156-177
  21. Phillips, 2014 Former members of the Armed Forces community and the criminal justice system: A review on behalf of the Secretary of State for Justice London

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019