Inmates face armed forces question
From January every prisoner coming into custody in England and Wales will be asked whether they have served in the armed forces as part of an effort to improve the way veterans are treated in the justice system.
The move follows a review by Tory MP and QC Stephen Phillips, who found that knowledge about the needs of former service personnel in the justice system was "patchy" and appropriate training was "a matter of luck".
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said veterans would now be identified at an early stage and offered a "tailored approach" to turn them away from crime.
The review found that veterans are less likely than their civilian counterparts to commit criminal offences but "a small minority have difficulties and find themselves in trouble with the law".
"Their offending behaviour is unlikely to have been directly caused by their service in the armed forces, but is sometimes contributed to by their experiences and, on occasion, made possible by their training," the report said.
Mr Phillips warned: " A lack of national guidance to statutory agencies has previously hindered effective working with offenders who have served in the armed forces and led to piecemeal provision across England and Wales."
He said a senior civil servant should be given responsibility for coordinating policy, with the Secretary of State reporting annually to Parliament on progress in dealing with veterans.
Setting out why it was necessary to ask prisoners whether they had served in the forces, Mr Phillips said: "P resently, far too many former service personnel who offend are simply not identified by criminal justice professionals, either because the question is not asked, or because when it is, they are reluctant to self-identify, either due to feelings of having let themselves and the services down, or because of a fear of the consequences of identification.
"Almost every professional to whom I spoke pointed out that training police officers, prison officers and others just to 'ask the question' (and to insist in future that it is asked at every stage), is likely to have a discernible effect on reoffending rates."
Mr Phillips suggested that the Government should also make a statement to Parliament responding to a forthcoming study by the King's Centre for Military Health Research on veterans and domestic violence.
" Families pay a price for service by their loved ones in the armed forces," he said. "For some, that price clearly continues once service has come to an end."
Mr Grayling announced a package of measures in response to the report and said: "Most ex-service personnel have successful civilian lives and do not enter the criminal justice system - but I am determined to help the minority who have committed an offence turn their lives around.
"Society owes a huge debt of gratitude to those who have served their country, which is why our commitment to support them and their families is enshrined in the Armed Forces Covenant.
"We will identify veterans at the earliest opportunity, so that we can take a more tailored approach to help them turn away from crime. This support will extend to offenders' families, who also feel the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women."
The National Offender Management Service will publish updated guidance for staff working with former service personnel in custody and the community in the summer of 2015 as part of the reform programme, the Ministry of Justice said.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said: " Labour welcomes the recommendations in today's report. We have been campaigning on this important issue for some time now and it is about time the Government did more than pay lip service to the needs of veterans.
"At a time when the Government didn't recognise this as a problem, Labour was arguing that more needed to be done to help keep our ex-servicemen and women out of our courts and prisons.
"It's just a shame that it's taken so long for change to happen.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to former members of our armed services. Most go on to have constructive lives after leaving the armed services but some can drift into a life of crime and we need to do more to prevent this.
"But I hope ministers will make a better fist of implementing the findings of today's overdue report than they've done of producing it in the first place. Their whole approach to the issue has been half-hearted and insulting."