Page last updated at 12:20 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 13:20 UK

Justice system 'failing veterans'

Prison door
As many as 8,500 ex-services personnel are in jail, it is claimed

More than 20,000 former servicemen and women are in prison, on probation or on parole in England and Wales, according to the probation officers' union Napo.

The figure, which includes 8,500 veterans in jail, is twice the number of troops serving in Afghanistan.

Napo warned that "support is not available of sufficient calibre" for ex-forces personnel.

But a Ministry of Defence spokesman said the "vast majority" made a successful return to civilian life.

Downing Street said the issue was at the "forefront of the prime minister's mind".

'Very macho'

According to Napo research, around 12,000 former Army, Navy and Air Force personnel with criminal convictions are on the Probation Service's books.

It says that almost one prisoner in 10 is ex-forces.

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

A study of 90 former personnel on probation or parole suggested that one-in-three suffered from chronic alcohol abuse while one-in 10 abused illegal drugs.

Among them, domestic violence accounted for one-in-three convictions while other violent crimes accounted for around one-in-five.

A quarter said they suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and others reported depression and behavioural problems.

Harry Fletcher, Napo's assistant general secretary, said the "very macho" culture of the services made it "very difficult to admit that you need help".

He said: "We've got to put effort into trying to divert as many veterans as possible from being in the justice system.

This government has failed to provide proper support to our troops
Dominic Grieve
Shadow justice secretary

"It's the hidden kind of consequences of war. And I think there are things we can do to divert them away."

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the public would be "shocked" that so many former servicemen and women were in custody.

He added: "It is a disgrace that so many who have served their country are languishing in our prisons.

"No-one is above the law, but this government has failed to provide proper support to our troops on return home."

David Hill, chief executive of charity Combat Stress, said he was "not surprised" by the findings.

He added: "We think it is time for a fresh look, and we are keen to engage with ministers to progress this."

Susan Bickerton, chief executive of housing charity Norcare, said authorities needed to act quicker to deal with the "army of forgotten war veterans sleeping on sofas of friends and families, a number of whom can and do turn to crime in desperation".

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We take our duty of care for all offenders very seriously, irrespective of background.

"Our first priority is protecting the public, and by providing offenders with support and information which will aid their resettlement in the community, we reduce the risk that they will re-offend."

The MoD spokesman added that a National Audit Office report had found that 94% of ex-service personnel had found work within six months of leaving.

He added: "A small minority can face serious difficulties and we provide a wide range of support, before, during and after leaving the services, including the MoD's Prison In-Reach initiative."

Downing Street said it took the issue "enormously seriously".

A spokesman added: "We have a resettlement package for people leaving the forces to help them make the transition into civilian life as smoothly as possible.

"In 2008, the National Audit Office said the resettlement package was at the forefront of best practice."



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