Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Former soliders and prison

In 1995 I went on an organised tour of Pentonville Prison with a group of Board members from the Housing Association I worked at. As the Housing Association housed ex-prisoners the visit was intended as part of their induction and to help them understand the experiences of our residents. A second group was merged with ours. It was a group of army officers on a pre-discharge course who were being tempted by the prospects of becoming a prison governor. As we walked around I was struck by how often the army officers recognised both prisoners and guards. They were not surprised that NCO's become guards but where shocked at the number of soldiers they saw locked up. I was less surprised. Armed Forces charities have always been very generous with former service personnel who end up in prison and as a matter of routine we asked new residents if they had been in army or navy because we knew if they had we could help them access funds to help them set up a new home.

So I was not surprised to see the Guardian recently report that there are more veterans in prison than soldiers in Afghanistan. The claims are based on research carried out by the Probation Officer's Union and whilst it is clear that there are some problems with the research methods they do raise an important and interesting point. The issue was also covered on the Today programme on Radio Four.

Is it that the army recruits the type of people who were likely to end up in prison anyway? Or could it be that the forces institutionalise sailors and soldiers and make them incapable of living stable lives after they are discharged? What impact has Iraq and Afghanistan had? Most former soldiers I knew coming out of prison had not experienced combat. But recently many more soldiers are experiencing killing and people attempting to kill them. This must have a massive impact on their lives and could it be leading to more violent behaviour?

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