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Number of ex-service members in jail soars.

The number of ex-servicemen in British prisons, many jailed for violent offences, has soared in the last four years according to new figures released today.

A report by probation officers' trade union Napo found more than nine per cent of the country's prisoners were former armed forces personnel, often suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Initial data suggested as many as 8,500 members of the UK's 93,574-strong prison population were ex-servicemen, and it is thought the number could be even higher.

A Home Office survey found in 2004 that only about five per cent of prisoners being released from jails were ex-servicemen.

Napo cited excess alcohol or drug taking as a common factor leading to former soldiers committing a violent offence and being sent to prison.

In the vast majority of the 70-plus case studies it collected, the ex-serviceman had served in either the Gulf or Afghanistan and was showing evidence of untreated post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One 23-year-old soldier referred to in the report described the difficulty of readjusting to civilian life after witnessing the horrors of the frontline.

The soldier, who previously served with the parachute regiment on two tours in active war zones, has received five custodial sentences since leaving the military in late 2005.

He said he found it hard to "reconcile the devastation, horror and distress of the war zone, with the comfortable life" he found himself and others taking for granted.

He self-medicated over a number of years using alcohol, became aggressive towards partners and others, and is currently serving four months for assault.

Napo suggested there may be a lack of relevant stress counselling either on site or the point of discharge.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said: "It is of real concern that thousands of soldiers are in prison.

"There is no systematic availability of stress-related counselling. This should be made available without delay and would drastically reduce the number of receptions into custody."

He called for help and advice for the men on arrest, when reports are being prepared, and on reception into prison.

Napo also urged the Government to explore the possibility of setting up an independent inspectorate and allowing armed service personnel to have their own representative organisation.

But the Ministry of Defence denied claims that servicemen were being failed after leaving the military.

A spokesman said: "The MoD works closely with the Service charities to support veterans when they leave the Armed Forces and for those who find themselves in prison.

"Robust systems are in place to treat and prevent PTSD and other stress disorders."

The MoD has launched six pilot schemes of mental health therapists for community-based veterans, which will be rolled out across the UK.

It said veterans, including those in prison, can also receive free mental health assessments from a consultant psychiatrist with a military background.

Additionally, staff at HMP Everthorpe have put together an advice pack for former soldiers and offer to liaise with counselling services.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The Prison Service does not have specific programmes for ex-service personnel, but information and support like that provided at HMP Everthorpe could be considered for wider use."

But Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, indicated the problem could be far more deep-rooted and one that could not be solved simply by providing support for ex-servicemen.

She said: "As a society we have to accept that there's a certain type of person who, once they've been taught to kill, that's what they'll do.

"If you don't have very good qualifications your options are fairly limited. There's crime, there's the army, there's the prison service.

"So it's really a question of what help we're giving to young men in this position."

She pointed out that a significant number of homeless people were also ex-servicemen.

Napo's report was produced after Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd tabled a parliamentary question about the extent of the problem.

He said: "I'm a criminal barrister and I'd seen so many ex-servicemen being sentenced in the courts that I decided to find out more.

"The response from the Government was unsatisfactory so I spoke to Napo and they collated these figures.

"The offences are clearly a cry for help and hopefully now this report has highlighted the problem, something will be done."
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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