Ex-military more likely to be jailed for violent and sexual offences

By staff writers
November 10, 2010

Veterans in both the US and UK are more likely to serve prison sentences for violent and sexual offences than those in the civilian population.

The findings emerged as part of the Howard League for Penal Reform inquiry which also found that veterans were less likely to go prison.

The briefing 'Leave No Veteran Behind' follows a visit to the USA and is part of Howard League’s inquiry into former armed service personnel in prison, chaired by Sir John Nutting QC, which aims to uncover why veterans enter the penal system and will make recommendations to the government about how to prevent offending.

The inquiry found that veterans are less likely to end up in prison. In England and Wales, civilians are thought to be 43 per cent more likely to end up in prison, and in the USA, veterans are less than half as likely to be in prison as other adult males,

However veterans are more likely to be serving sentences for violent offences. Among State prisoners, 57 per cent of veterans were categorised as ‘violent offenders’, compared to 47 per cent of non-veterans. In the UK, 32.9 per cent of veterans are in prison for violence against the person, compared to 28.6 per cent of the non-veteran prison population.

Veterans are also more likely to be serving sentences for sexual offences. 23 per cent of veterans were in US prisons for sexual offences, compared to nine per cent of civilian prisoners. In England and Wales, 25 per cent of veterans are in prison for sexual offences, compared to 19 per cent of the civilian prison population.

Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “There are many factors that contribute to veterans offending. The military traditionally finds recruits from disadvantaged communities and many will return to those communities on leaving the services. Homelessness, mental health problems and substance misuse are all significant causes of offending in both the United States and in England and Wales.

“The comparison of Ministry of Defence figures with those from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics includes startling correspondences. In both countries, it would appear that veterans in prison are more likely to be older, and more likely to be serving sentences in prison for serious violent or sexual offences. This also corresponds with our experience in interviewing around 30 veterans in prisons in England and Wales.

“The experience in both countries suggests that most veterans in prison will not have arrived there shortly after exiting the plane from Helmand. Instead, the picture is one of decline over a prolonged period, with imprisoned veterans in both the US and UK tending to be older men who have offended many years after service, often committing serious violent or sexual crimes.”

The study also noted a large discrepancy in reported Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) rates between the US and UK, with UK estimates at four per cent and US estimates at around 20 per cent. A variety of arguments have been put forward as to why this might be the case.

The inquiry also visited a veterans’ court in the US that claimed a zero per cent reoffending rate for veterans on its programme.

Veterans courts have been operating in the US since 2008 and offer tailored support for veterans who have committed non-violent offences to get their lives back on track. The courts diverts veterans from the traditional criminal justice system and provide them with the tools they need in order to lead a productive and law-abiding lifestyle, such as such as substance misuse treatment, academic and vocational training.

Leave no Veteran Behind examines the American system in relation to the aftercare given to those who have served and then leave the military, and the lessons which may be learned from it by the system in England and Wales.

The final report will be published on Armed Forces Day, June 2011.


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