Tuesday, 30 March 2010



An MSP has called for the Prison Service and Ministry of Defence to work together to discover how many armed forces veterans are currently in Scotland’s jails as part of efforts to support those leaving the services.

SNP MSP Angela Constance, who recently chaired a summit in the Scottish Parliament looking at how veterans in the Criminal Justice system can be supported and ways to minimise the number of veterans in prison, has written to the Scottish Justice Secretary and the Ministry of Defence to call for Scotland to conduct the same survey of prisoners as has been undertaken in England, which revealed that 3% of prisoners in England and Wales were forces veterans.

Ms Constance wants to discover the number of veterans in prison to ensure that appropriate services are available to those leaving the services to minimise the risk of them turning to crime or violence.

In her letter Ms Constance, the Livingston MSP who is a former prison social worker and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s
Justice committee states: “gathering reliable data regarding the extent of this problem is a vital first step in any efforts to reduce the number of veterans who offend and become
embroiled in the criminal justice system. Repeating the study carried out in England and Wales in Scotland would give decision makers north of the border the accurate data that is
needed to underpin effective policy solutions.“

Commenting on her request Ms Constance said:
“No person is above the law. Veterans, like anyone, end up in our prison system for a variety of reasons and must face
punishment but as part of the debt we owe our service personnel and as we put in place support services for veterans to help
them return to civilian life it is important we understand the interaction of some veterans with the criminal justice system.

“I am concerned that we do not know how many veterans are in Scotland’s prisons and whilst SPS estimate 1.6% of prisoners may have been in the service our strong
military traditions suggest that this may be an underestimate.

“There have been concerns in the past that those struggling to readjust or suffering from stress or mental health problems related to their time in the forces may find themselves in conflict with the law - but that in many cases these circumstances could be avoided.

“To ensure we are providing the right services to minimise the number of veterans in prison in Scotland we must start by
knowing the scale of the problem we face and I hope SPS and the Ministry of Defence will work together to discover this information.”

1. Estimates of veterans in Scottish prisons
Determining the number of veterans behind bars is not straight forward. Information on offender’s pasts is not always
forthcoming, and when it is provided it is not always accurate. The result is that estimates regarding the exact extent of
this issue have varied considerably, as the below figures demonstrate:

    Ø Scottish Prison Service (SPS) figures state that there
    are 121 veterans in Scottish prisons – or
    1.6% of the total population.
    Ø Research undertaken by the National Association of
    Probation Officers (NAPO) in England and Wales concluded that
    8% of the prison population were veterans.
    Ø Veterans in Prison estimated in 2007 that 9.1% of the
    prison population had a service record.
    Ø A recent study by the MoD and MoJ found that 3% of the
    prison population in England and Wales had served in the armed forces

The final study was the most comprehensive as it matched a MoJ database of prisoners in England and Wales with a database of service leavers held by the MoD. Given that Scotland traditionally supplies a proportionately higher number of personnel to the UK armed services, it is reasonable to assume that the figure is similar, perhaps even higher, north of the border:

    Ø If 3% of Scotland’s 8100 prisoners are veterans, then
    around 240 Scottish veterans are incarcerated.
    Ø If 3% of the 17,000 Scot’s serving community sentences
    are veterans, then a further 510 ex-service personnel are in
    the criminal justice system.
    Ø Altogether, this would mean there around 750 veterans
    in the Scottish criminal justice system.

To put this figure into context, it is useful to look at the number of Scot’s currently serving in Afghanistan:

    Ø In January 2010, the MoD announced that 1000 Scottish
    troops would be deployed to Afghanistan.

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