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Veterans in Prison

Volume 503: debated on Wednesday 6 January 2010

The Minister with responsibility for the National Offender Management Service, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and I wish to make the following joint statement.

The MOD and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have been working to provide up to date and authoritative data on the number of veterans in prison in England and Wales. We can today confirm that the Defence Analytical Services and Advice (DASA) of the MOD has estimated that ex-service personnel in prison represent almost 3 per cent. of offenders in prison.

The estimate was determined by matching a database of prisoners aged 18 and over in England and Wales from the MOJ against a database of service leavers held by the MOD. The analysis does not include reservists nor those who had left the service prior to 1979 (Navy), 1972 (Army), and 1968 (RAF). Further work will seek to quantify the likely effect of the incompleteness of the MOD database. DASA estimates that a more complete database is unlikely to increase the estimated proportion of offenders who are ex-service to more than 4 per cent. This is because reservists have other employment and it is possible that it makes them less likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system; and, because evidence from previous studies suggests that crimes tend to be committed soon after discharge from service.

The 3 per cent. figure compares with the Home Office survey of 2,000 nationally representative offenders at the point of release in 2001, 2003 and 2004, which reported the armed forces proportion to be 6 per cent., 4 per cent. and 5 per cent. respectively.

The next stage in this project will be to evaluate the ex-service prison population in terms of demographic and service variables such as age, gender, service branch, length of service, rank, deployment history, time since discharge, and offence type. This qualitative analysis should allow for informed policy decisions to be made where necessary to ensure that resources are better targeted at appropriate groups of offenders. The MOD will also investigate where relevant improvements could be made in-service to minimise contact with the criminal justice system once personnel are discharged from the armed forces.

The Howard League for Penal Reform in November 2009 launched an independent inquiry into former armed forces personnel in prison. We understand that the inquiry will take a year to conclude, but we intend to work closely with Sir John Nutting QC and his team and have offered to share the findings of our analysis with them.

We will keep the House informed of developments.