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Criminal Proceedings: Ex-servicemen

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 28 October 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, (1) what recent steps his Department has taken to assist armed forces veterans in the criminal justice system; (294505)

(2) what recent estimate he has made of the number of armed forces veterans who are in the criminal justice system.

The National Offender Management Service, the Ministry of Defence and third sector partners, have made significant progress in further developing the range of services and support available for veterans who have offended. New posters and leaflets have been distributed in order to promote the support that is on offer to veterans in prison and after release. Prison officers have been given access to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency website and, where Governors allow, prisoners have direct access to their free helpline. Charities providing support have access to veterans for welfare visits which do not count against prisoners’ personal visits allowance.

A guide for prison officers working with veterans is under development this has been informed by good practice in existence in a number of prisons and work is in progress to prepare instructions for probation staff supervising ex-service personnel, in the community.

New IT-based offender assessment procedures include questioning to identify offenders who have served in the armed forces. This is in the early stages of roll out across the prison estate and will be fully implemented by May 2010.

While we acknowledge that we are currently unable to identify all of those prisoners who are veterans, we are confident that assessment at induction will signpost offenders, according to need, to the range of generic interventions that are available. This will include mental health in-reach, referral to the Medical Assessment Programme at St. Thomas’ Hospital providing specialist health assessment for veterans and referral to Combat Stress Treatment Centres for help with anxiety management, post-traumatic stress, sleep disorder and grief. To complement this, the Prison Service provides a range of 14 Offending Behaviour Programmes, six Drug Programmes and a therapeutic community at Grendon prison.

Work is ongoing to quantify the numbers of armed forces veterans in the criminal justice system. Data matching will begin during November and we will disseminate the numbers identified by December. Discussions are underway with a view to extending this to encompass offenders serving community sentences. We anticipate that the data will enable us to examine some of the paths into offending, make decisions about whether more specific services need to be developed and provide more targeted support.