Thousands more ex-frontline soldiers in the criminal justice system than previously believed; The number of former soldiers who have been convicted of a crime after returning from the frontline is 4,000 higher than previously thought, it was claimed yesterday.
October 22, 2008 (United Kingdom) – Elfyn Llwyd told fellow Members of Parliament (MP) that an estimated 4,000 ex-servicemen were serving community punishments for drug dealing, robbery and sexual offences.
This is in addition to the estimated 8,500 prisoners – one in 10 of the jail population in England and Wales – who probation officers say are in jail after serving the country in Iraq or Afghanistan.
It also emerged that the Ministry of Defence had for the first time commissioned an internal study to try to understand the scale of the problem.
Mr Llwyd said it was a “massive problem”: “At a time when serving soldiers have to make do with inferior kit, failure to act on this problem – and to do so positively and urgently – will be seen as further evidence that this Government has breached the covenant with the armed services in the most obvious and serious way.
“With proper support and counselling I believe that several thousands currently in custody would not be there.”
The estimates are far more than the most recent Government figures. Ministers said in March that just five per cent of the prison population in 2004 – about 3,800 inmates – were former servicemen.
Speaking in a Westminister Hall debate in Parliarment, Mr Llwyd said the Ministry of Defence had now commissioned a “scoping survey” to try to weigh up the scale of the problem.
Mr Llwyd, who is the leader of Plaid Cymru in the Commons, questioned why the Government failed to keep better figures, given that judges always ask for reports to be prepared on offenders who are about to be sentenced.
The problem was getting more serious, he said, as the army became more overstretched and tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq were more frequent.
He said: “The problem is becoming worse and more acute given that servicemen and women now have to spend far longer in conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan than previously.
“Times between each deployment are now far shorter and consequently the pressures on them are considerably increased.”
The “majority of ex-soldiers” in a series of cases examined by the National Association of Probation Officers were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders.
Yet, Mr Llwyd claimed, psychiatric care offered by the Ministry of Defence was limited to three days “rest and relaxation” on a beach in Cyprus, and general questions about whether soldiers had “any problems”.
Soldiers returning from the front-line should be given several weeks’ debriefing on an army base by trained psychiatrists, rather than be expected to return to normal life. “This after care cannot be left to the voluntary sector alone,” he said.
Mr Llwyd said that few Government departments wanted to take responsibility for the problem, with the Ministry of Defence insisting it was a matter for the Department for Health.
David Hanson, the prisons minister, said the Government was taking the issue seriously and trying to find out definitively how many war veterans were in prison. The new research would also look at the age of the offenders and the nature of the crimes.
He said he was concerned by the claims, although he denied that the Government had broken its share of the “military covenant”. The Ministry of Defence had 150 mental health professionals who worked with servicemen back from the frontline.
He said: “We need to have a greater understanding of mental health problems of service personnel. There are no quick fixes on this.”