New report reveals lack of support for veterans in the criminal justice system

Blog by Chloe MacKay, Chief Operating Officer for RFEA and Co-Chair of the Cobseo Criminal Justice Cluster

A new report, Focus On: Armed Forces Charities in the Criminal Justice System by the Directory of Social Change (DSC), funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), has revealed that relatively few armed forces charities deliver support for veterans that come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Figures show that 31 armed forces charities (equating to only around 1.6% of all military charities) are currently delivering help to around 3200 veterans at various points in the UK criminal justice system, ranging from police custody to prison to those on parole and beyond. Of those charities highlighted in the report, 39% also provide support to family members of veterans in the criminal justice system.

Whilst we welcome the report, these numbers are low when compared to other areas of veteran support provided by armed forces charities, such as physical health (121), education and employment (78), housing (78), and mental health (76). What’s more, the likelihood is that the number of veterans needing help in the criminal justice system is likely to be far greater than current figures suggest.

The needs of veterans in the criminal justice system are often significant and complex, including issues such as PTSD, dependency and/ or homelessness, and can require specialist and tailored support. Yet there are many known barriers, uniquely affecting veterans, which means they can be reluctant to disclose their Services career, such as feelings of shame or having broken a code of honour, or a fear of retribution from others around them.

This combination of unique needs and a deficit of adequate support, coupled with a lack of disclosure, can have disastrous consequences, which some veterans simply cannot find a way back from. Yet, we know that targeted programmes, such as RFEA’s Project Nova (run in conjunction with Walking With The Wounded), which provides employment and other lifechanging skills support to those at risk of entering the criminal justice system, can be the pivotal turning point they need to get their lives back on track.

Successful initiatives, such as Project Nova, demonstrate that through the support of a military charities that understand life in the armed forces, the impact that active service in a conflict can have, the challenges faced in the transition to civilian life and the barriers to employment, many veterans who have become offenders can move on.

Following this report, we now want to see more being done to understand the scale of need, and to encourage opportunities to reach and assist those veterans and their families who need us most.