Page last updated at 22:57 GMT, Saturday, 30 August 2008 23:57 UK

Jails 'hold 8,500 ex-servicemen'

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Veterans in Prison founder says more post-service support is needed

Up to 8,500 former members of the armed forces are serving sentences in UK prisons, it has been claimed.

Probation staff union Napo said its figures suggested about one in every 11 prisoners used to be in the forces.

It has led the union and Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd to claim there is a lack of support for ex-service personnel.

The Ministry of Defence said it worked closely with charities to support veterans when they left the service and those who went to prison.

Both the MoD and the Ministry of Justice said they planned to carry out further surveys soon to "ensure we have up-to-date figures that will help us better target the help we provide for veterans in prison".

If proper treatment was available for these disturbed servicemen, hundreds if not thousands would not have offended
Elfyn Llwyd MP

Mr Llwyd said thousands of former members of the armed services who served either in the Gulf or Afghanistan had been subsequently convicted of offences and jailed.

He claimed that "effectively when armed personnel return, there is no help for them," and said the position in the UK "contrasts greatly with the way the United States provide counselling and assistance to their armed personnel".

"I have come to the conclusion that if proper treatment was available for these disturbed servicemen, hundreds if not thousands would not have offended," said Mr Llwyd, the leader of Plaid Cymru's parliamentary group.

"The government is letting them and their families down very badly indeed."

Mr Llwyd said he had been unsatisfied with the initial response he was given when he raised the issue in Parliament after concerns were raised by his constituents in Meirionnydd Nant Conwy.

EX-ARMED FORCES CASE STUDIES
British soldier
A west Midlands ex-serviceman who had been in Bosnia had for some time been anxious and "waiting for something to happen" when he attacked someone who bumped into him in a pub
A young man in west Yorkshire began heavy drinking and having nightmares after return on leave from Iraq, attacked his sister and father and talked about "too much sand" when arrested
A north Wales veteran committed public order offences on alcohol and drugs, has anxiety and depression and analyses all his experiences negatively
Source: Napo
A criminal lawyer by trade, he saw ex-servicemen being sentenced in north Wales courts for assaults "with worrying regularity".

He was told in a parliamentary answer that figures from "nationally representative surveys" of some 2,000 prisoners in 2001, 2003 and 2004 showed the proportion of former armed forces prisoners was 6%, 4% and 5% respectively.

The MP contacted Napo, which represents probation and family court staff, which then gathered evidence from 22 probation areas.

Napo said its initial findings and data from the group Veterans in Prison suggested that "as many as 8,500 former soldiers are currently in custody in the UK". On 15 August, the prison population was 93,574.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said the number in prison could be greater than 8,500, and its studies suggest there could be more than 7,000 in England and Wales, and another 1,000 in Scotland.

Mr Fletcher said the "vast majority" of offences were violent and related to drugs or alcohol.

"There is no systematic availability of stress-related counselling. This should be made available without delay and would drastically reduce the number of receptions into custody".

An MoD spokesperson said: "The MoD works closely with the service charities to support veterans when they leave the armed forces and for those who find themselves in prison.

"The Prison In-Reach initiative already provides advice on the support available to veterans before and after their release. Robust systems are in place to treat and prevent PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and other stress disorders."

The MoD said counselling was always available to personnel, troops had briefings before and after postings, there were six mental health therapy pilot schemes, and veterans could have free assessments.

The Ministry of Justice said prisoners were given support in addressing the issues which led to their behaviour.


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