By Trevor Phillpott
An official Defence Analytical Services and Advice (MoD) and MoJ report was published on 25th January 2010 describing the percentage of prisoners in England and Wales who are former Armed Forces personnel (veterans). The report suggested that 3.5% of this prison population are veterans. These figures have now been put in question by Dr Keith Horsted, Director of the Saraswati Project, an International Research Company.Dr Horsted says that the government’s figures fail to acknowledge other countries where veterans may be imprisoned (Scotland, Northern Ireland or elsewhere). It therefore does not reflect the overall percentage of UK veterans in the prison system. He goes on to describe that: The figures are simply an estimate of the matches between a MoD database of service leavers and a MoJ database of prisoners at that time. Importantly, the MoD database is incomplete as it does not have information of service leavers from the Army, Air Force and Navy prior to 1973, 1969 and 1979 respectively The figures are also a snapshot of the two databases on 6th November 2009 – they do not reflect any trends throughout a given period of time or an indication as to the overall number of veterans entering and leaving the prison system. The figures do not include reservists or female service leavers. 6.8% of the figures did not include a rank in their entry and therefore fail to provide accurate figures by rank. Missing service leavers are not included in the detailed figures relating to offence or period since leaving the Service. Only 22% began their sentence within 5 years of leaving Service, suggesting that the majority of the offences occur post 5 years of leaving the Service. Dr Horsted suggests anecdotal evidence from various prisons indicate that numbers are much higher and that official figures are not sufficiently robust to be used with any degree of confidence. It is estimated that over 6% of prisoners in HMP Channings Wood are veterans, many classified as being Vulnerable Prisoners. Other prisons have reported between 10% - 14%. Similar issues exist with number of veterans on probation or sleeping rough. Critically, many veterans within the CJS are suffering with differing levels of mental health problems, often arising from combat experiences and other difficulties. Whilst those with physical injuries are rightly receiving maximum support, those with unseen mental injuries are less well supported. With the governments recent focus on mental health, will veterans be recognised as a special deserving case? Anecdotal evidence is clearly showing that veterans represent the largest single employment group within the justice system. In respect of the Military Covenant, the UK is seriously failing these men and women and their families. When will the MOJ approve more detailed research into what is an increasing major issue and recognsie the need to provide an alternative to prison and probation for those who, in many cases, have risked their lives and their familiy relationships for their country?