In the year 2016, 2,565 Veterans were sent to prison. The vast majority of these were veterans of conflicts. Iraq, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, the Falklands conflict, Bosnia, Kosovo, the list goes on. Many of the crimes include violent and sexual offences mostly brought on by drink, drugs and almost always Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Unfortunately, the crimes committed are almost never victimless and justice does need to be done. There has to be help and support for the victims in all cases and we need to bear in mind that a faliure to punish appropriately causes many issues for the victim and indeed the public. That being said, there is still a huge lack of understanding why men who defended the country, put their lives on the line for those they love and were willing to sacrifice all to protect people they didn’t know suddenly turn to crime.
The Ministry of Justice and those involved with cases involving veterans need to be taking more notice in the history of service and looking in to the reasons what caused the individual to offend. Why was he/she drinking so much? Why is his anger at such a point that they lashed out? What made them strike out in their sleep? Why have they done things completely out of character? The simple fact is that theyir whole psycological make-up has completely changed due to their experiences. In some cases, the question has to be asked “Is prison the correct option?”
Ok, we know that prison is unavoidable in many of these cases and is necessary but what happens next? To a veteran suffering from PTSD, this is the equivelent of hell on earth. The regime and discipline is hardly ever a problem and ex-forces personnel will very quickly adapt to a regimented system. After all, this is second nature. The problem comes at night when he suffers nightmares and he finds himself in an isolated world with absolutely no support. In these cases, it is quite possible for the condition to worsen and, in extreme cases, push the veteran to suicidal tendencies
A recent survey on prisons found that there was very little care or support for veterans. In one case, the mental health department of one prison actually stated that “We don’t deal with PTSD in veterans as it is too easy to bluff”. The only thing that is usually offered is anti-depressants and sleeping pills.
Despite the lack of mental health support, charities such as SSAFA, RBL and Care After Combat regularly visit prisons to offer support. Care After Combat actually do help veterans in prison but they are unfortunately, not big enough to cover all prison establishments.
Although we have said that mental health support is very scarce for veterans in custody, it strikes one as surprising that charities such as Combat Stress do not take the opportunity to begin treatment while they are in a secure enviroment. Surely, this would be more beneficial to the veteran rather than the offender courses they have to take. It seems obvious that unless you remove the problem, in this case PTSD, then there is every chance of repeat offending. Something for the MoJ to consider, maybe.
Despite this grim picture there are support peer groups that gather together to bring support to each other. These are normally facilitated by Prison Officers who have previously served themselves.
In summary, there are many questions that have to be asked and these questions desperately need to be answered. Hopefully, this insight will stir a few thoughts in nthe right places. Finally, I would like to thank the veterans that spoke to us in order to report on this subject. You know who you guys are, a big thank you.