A new report, identifying the challenges faced by ex-Service personnel who enter police custody and ways to better support them, has found that the ex-Serving personnel in this study who are identified at the point of contact in police custody have responded encouragingly to targeted support…

The report, ‘A Pilot Study to Support Veterans in the Criminal Justice System’, was funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) and delivered by Anglia Ruskin University, to examine the engagement and impact of a pilot veteran intervention programme, Project Nova.

Project Nova was delivered by RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity and Walking with the Wounded, in collaboration with Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies, and a network of military charities and organisations to provide advice, guidance and support to ex-Service personnel who had entered police custody. The Project placed particular focus on early intervention to prevent re-offending further down the line and was delivered between July 2014 and July 2015 in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The impact of Project Nova on reoffending rates was notable; seven out of ten participants had been arrested in the six-month period prior to their engagement with the Project but none were arrested in the following six months afterwards. The report identified that veterans referred to Project Nova found that ex-Serving personnel engaged with the criminal justice system rank themselves in the lowest 20% of the population for their mental health and wellbeing.

The report also found that the greatest number of offences were carried out by those who had transitioned out of the military over 20 years earlier. However, while these statistics around the impact of engagement are encouraging, because of the relatively small data sets available, further factors need to be explored which could account for these changes.

Nine out of ten of those who went through the in-depth interview process with Project Nova reported feeling that interaction with mentors or support workers with a military background or understanding was important to them. The report determined that trust and positive relationships are fundamental to veterans being open to receiving support, especially as many described personal perceptions of weakness and shame about accepting their own needs for care and support.

The Report makes a number of recommendations to better understand and improve support for veteran offenders. These recommendations include: a larger scale exploration of support available to veteran offenders; analysis of a larger sample of participants; and a large scale, regional roll-out of the project.

Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: “The positive impact of Project Nova’s work to actively tailor support for veteran offenders is encouraging. The findings and recommendations of the Report will help inform better intervention methods for veterans entering police custody, as well as providing a better understanding of the challenges they face. Further research, and a wider roll out of the project, would help build a stronger evidence base from which we could better support this particularly vulnerable cohort in the future.”

Stephen Gledhill, CEO of RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity said: “As military charities working hand-in-hand with one another, we understand Veterans’ experience of military service, the effect this has had on their transition to civilian life and the many difficulties they encounter. We are therefore able to put in place the help they need to face the future.”

Edward Parker, CEO of Walking With The Wounded said: “We have been fortunate to be able to use the emerging lessons from this study of the Pilot area to further develop and grow the programme. Project Nova is now also working to bring crucial help to Veterans who become involved in the Criminal Justice System in the North East, North West and South Yorkshire and Humberside”.

Matt Fossey, Director of the Veterans & Families Institute (VFI) at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “The VFI is committed to addressing the issues faced by ex-Service personnel through research and partnership working. Project Nova has delivered encouraging results and we sincerely hope the findings will prompt further investigation and research.”