New research into ex-service personnel in the justice system

New research identifies barriers to identification and uptake of support for ex-Service personnel in the criminal justice system


28th March – A new report produced by Nacro and the University of Northampton, and funded by Forces in Mind Trust, published today has explored the barriers to identification of ex-Service personnel in the criminal justice system, and the barriers to uptake of support.

Whilst the majority of ex-Service personnel transition successfully to civilian life, some become involved with the criminal justice system. However, there is a lack of comprehensive data about those in this situation, making it challenging to provide effective support. Identifying the barriers to this data deficit is essential to future decision making and improved service delivery.

Barriers to Identification

The research found several barriers to the identification and uptake of support of ex-Service personnel in the criminal justice system. These include:

  • There is a lack of understanding about why ex-service personnel are being asked about their previous Service when they are in contact with the criminal justice system, and what will happen as a result.
  • A reluctance amongst ex-service personnel to seek help for which pride and a sense of self-reliance were given as reasons.
  •  The word “veteran” was not always understood to include ex-Service personnel with shorter periods of Service or without combat experience. In the UK anyone who has served at least one day in the Armed Forces is a veteran, however common understanding of the term does not match the official definition and many ex-Service personnel were not aware that their Service history made them eligible to access veteran-specific services.
  • The support landscape for ex-service personnel in the criminal justice system is complex and both ex-service personnel and some practitioners didn’t know about the support available and eligibility.


The recommendations of the report aim to address these barriers to improve identification of and support for ex-Service personnel in the future. A full list of barriers identified and recommendations can be found in the full report. These include:

  • Ensure that the rationale for asking about Service history is explained clearly when the question is asked.
  • Build multiple opportunities for ex-Service personnel to share their service status into each part of the criminal justice pathway. This includes building opportunities for identification into time with the police, in probation services, justice social work, prisons, charity engagement and in courts.
  • Standardise the identification question to clearly convey eligibility and who the term ‘veteran’ or ‘ex-service personnel’ covers.
  • Expand and ringfence resources available for the Veterans in Custody Support Officer (ViCSO) role and make this a full-time paid position in prisons, particularly those with significant numbers of identified ex-service personnel.

Further recommendations were made to help ex-Service personnel who may be at risk of offending before they reach the criminal justice system, providing veteran-informed training, as well as for building trust with veterans in the criminal justice system.

Campbell Robb Chief Executive of Nacro, said:

“This report shows how much more we can do to support ex-service personnel in the criminal justice system. When we spoke to people who had previously served in the Armed Forces and other stakeholders, they told us they were often reluctant to seek help and there were a range of barriers to them disclosing their service history, as well as to taking up support. This report not only outlines these barriers but looks at what can be done to remove them, to create better understanding, and ensure tailored support.”

Professor Matthew Callender Director of the Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice, said:

“This research provides a rich insight into the experiences and perspectives of ex-service personnel in the justice system. Based on the accounts of over 100 ex-service personnel in England, Scotland and Wales, this report represents a significant contribution to furthering our understanding of the complexities of delivering high quality support across the criminal justice system. Overall, the findings act as a guide to make positive changes to better identify ex-service personnel and deliver support based on their needs.”

Michelle Alston Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said:

“Forces in Mind Trust recognised the importance of understanding how we can more effectively identify those ex-Service personnel within the criminal justice system to better understand their needs and ensure that they have access to appropriate support. This key report highlights those barriers throughout an individual’s journey through the system and is an essential step to improving support for the small minority of ex-Service personnel in the criminal justice system and their families.”


Notes to Editors

  • 100 Stakeholders were interviewed across England, Scotland and Wales. This includes police, probation, prisons, the voluntary sector, government and health services. These interviews were separated into national and local stakeholders with 29 national stakeholders and 71 local stakeholders.
  • 104 ex-Service personnel were interviewed. The vast majority of these were ex-Service personnel in prison

At Nacro we believe that everyone deserves a good education, a safe and secure place to live, the right to be heard, and the chance to start again, with support from someone on their side. That’s why our housing, education, justice and health and wellbeing services work alongside people to give them the support and skills they need to succeed. And it’s why we fight for their voices to be heard and campaign together to create lasting change. We see your future, whatever the past.

Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) was founded in 2011 with a £35 million endowment from the National Lottery Community Fund to improve transition to civilian life for Service leavers and their families. Our mission is to enable successful and sustainable transition to civilian life, and the Trust’s strategy is to provide an evidence base that will influence and underpin effective policy making and practice. By funding high quality, credible research where there is an identified gap in relevant understanding, and by then exploiting the findings, FiMT aims to effect positive change. |@FiMTrust