Casualties of war: Ex-armed forces service personnel in prison

May 9th, 2012
Findings are to be announced today (May 9) on why ex-armed forces personnel end up in prison. Dr James Treadwell from the Department of Criminology at the University of Leicester will present his research before his peers at a research seminar.

The seminar will draw on 29 interviews with serving male prisoners, who were previously employed in HM armed forces undertaken in three prisons in England in late 2010. It will chart how recent explanations for offending by ex-military personnel have focused on the seeming connection between experiences of traumatic and violent conflict in active combat service and the onset of subsequent criminality, particularly linked to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Dr Treadwell said: "Despite the fact that in the UK there has historically been little academic study of this connection, evidence from the USA about the link between military combat experiences and violent crime is variable. However using these accounts of these former military service personnel, it will be suggested that their offending is complex and multifaceted, and diagnosed combat trauma often seemingly only plays a small role."

Dr Treadwell has previously served as the academic consultant to the Howard League for Penal Reform's 'Inquiry into Ex-Armed Forces Personnel in Custody'.

This independent inquiry has sought to discover the reasons why ex-servicemen enter the penal system, investigate how former armed service personnel can be given appropriate support to prevent offending and look for good practice and new ideas. The inquiry was chaired by Sir John Nutting QC, one of the country's leading barristers.

Dr Treadwell said: "As the oldest penal reform charity in the world, and with United Nations consultative status, the Howard League for Penal Reform was well placed to launch such an important inquiry, and my role as advisor and researcher has been integral to the project".

"I have been involved in various high profile visits including trips to the United States of America, attending oral evidence sessions, conducting extensive qualitative research interviewing ex-servicemen in prisons in England, and writing a range of published material for the inquiry".

"The inquiry found that the veterans in custody constituted a diverse group, though alarmingly ex-servicemen were highly represented for some categories of offence, particularly violent and sexual offences.

"The majority had served a significant period in the forces, but struggled in adapting to life afterwards, finding themselves on a slippery slope that lead to imprisonment. On leaving the forces many ex-services personnel find once stable relationships with wives and partners are often tested to breaking point and separation and divorce are common. Individuals often miss the camaraderie of the forces and have few people to turn to.

"However there was no evidence to suggest that in the majority of cases individuals were suffering the adverse effects of trauma brought about by combat exposure."

In previous published research, Dr Treadwell notes how prison and the military have a lot in common in terms of institutional outlook and support systems. Many join the services straight from school, swapping one institution for another and so have no experience of independent life and therefore struggle to cope after service.

He said: "I have encountered many ex-forces personnel who had ended up in the criminal justice system. Those I met often came from difficult family backgrounds prior to enlisting, were institutionalised into the services and ill-prepared for civilian life when the left. In the military, things were ordered, but outside, in the civilian world post-service, their lives fell apart."

Commenting on his work for the Inquiry, Dr Treadwell said:

"As the person charged with gathering much of the empirical research that informs the Inquiry's report, I have contributed to creation of knowledge in an area which has the potential to shape government policy in years to come. As the Royal British Legion has recently noted, there is still a need for greater knowledge on how people who have served in the forces come to find themselves in the criminal justice system, and work future undertaken in the University of Leicester's Department of Criminology is likely to be at the forefront of generating that information and bridging the knowledge deficit, and ensuring today's soldiers are not tomorrow's prisoners."

Provided by University of Leicester

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