Keeping Britain’s Veterans Out of Prison

By Lydia Jackson

It has recently emerged, according to the latest Council of Europe figures, that Britain has the largest prison population in western Europe at 95,248, which is nearly 20,000 more than France and 30,000 more than Germany.

This is somewhat shocking, considering that per 100,000 people there are 149.7 incarcerated in England and Wales and 147.6 in Scotland. In comparison, France has 118 and Germany has 81.4.

The largest cohort:

Despite the latest government statistics outlining the veteran prison population as comprising of a seemingly small 3.5% of inmates within Britain, ex service personnel are the largest societal cohort within prisons.

Veterans have been outlined as a group with a poor housing situation, with many individuals experiencing homelessness prior to entering prison.

Another trend outlined is their poor or limited social relationships, with a disproportionate number of veterans experiencing a divorce or lack of relationships in comparison with wider society, as well as mental health issues such as PTSD.

Care After Combat:

Care after combat has focused on these limited social networks as a reason for integration difficulties within ex-servicemen, which in turn leads to high rates of reoffending.

It is a charity which works towards the rehabilitation and mentoring of veterans, specifically focusing on those whom have been incarcerated.

On average, each prisoner in England and Wales costs £84, which is above the European average of £76.62. Therefore, the charity’s role is of great poignancy within Britain, where there is a certain advocacy for reducing the number of people that are imprisoned.

The charity was initiated in May 2015 by Jim Davidson OBE, a well-known comedian, and presenter of the Generation Game, alongside Falklands veteran Simon Weston OBE.

Mr Weston is also an author and public speaker, and is in a better position than many to advocate the needs of ex-serviceman during their resocialisation into civilian life.

In 1982, whilst on tour in the Falklands, Weston was aboard the Sir Galahad in Bluff Cove as a Welsh Guardsman when it was bombed from the air and set ablaze. 56 men lost their lives, and though the veteran survived, he suffered from a life changing 46% burns aged only 21.

From Caerphilly, he has since been recognised as one of the top 100 Welsh Heroes in 2004 and 2014, and the feature of five BBC documentaries.

As an individual that understands the physical and mental hardship of post services rehabilitation and integration, Weston, alongside Davidson, has founded a charity that is pioneering through its provision of professional assistance through a mentoring process, something which has not been offered previously by other charities in order to reduce re-offending.

The Phoenix Project:

The first twelve months of the project, which has been named Phoenix, saw the ‘recruitment’ of 82 veterans between the ages of 19 and 72 from three Category B and C prisons, HMP Winchester, HMP The Mount and HMP Wayland.

The project was later extended to Category D prisons, including a number of HM Prisons in Wales, and excludes prisoners which had committed crimes of a sexual nature.

The initiative provided peer mentoring during the final 18 months of sentencing, which then proceeds to continue for a minimum of twelve months after release.

The Phoenix project has almost completed its second year of implementation, and has displayed some extremely promising results thus far.

Of the initial 72 veterans recruited into the first twelve months of the process, sixteen have been released, with none of them reoffending.

This result is particularly impressing, considering that 45% of the adult prison population that is released tends to be re-imprisoned within 12 months of release.

Mr Davidson, who is also the Executive Chairman of the charity claims that “the results clearly demonstrate a successful outcome and is a template for further success”.

Reducing the costs:

The prison population has been on the increase since 1980, but has seen a sharp increase in recent years, with a 91% increase since 1993. Therefore, charities such as this, which aim to reduce numbers by tackling the larger cohorts of inmates are of extreme societal relevance, and should thus be made aware of and supported.

Furthermore, the costs associated with each reoffender are calculated at approximated £185,000 per person, therefore the mitigated finances relating to this project are of great value. As is the human cost.

Care after Combat also offers an alcohol intervention programme named ‘Footprints’, comprising of educational, physiological, psychological and sociological elements.

Its third element is ‘Carp after Combat’, which helps veterans through their transitional period into civilian life through using fishing as a method of engagement for those who may be finding things difficult, and to aid them with speaking openly and building relationships.

The charity has also seen the launch of a recent partnership with the NHS, and appears to be tackling all angles in its attempts to reduce the costs of the difficulties of veterans during their socialisation and re-integration to civilian life.

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