A new report produced by Nacro and the University of Northampton, and funded by Forces in Mind Trust, explores 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 those without combat experience. This has led to some ex-Service personnel being unaware that their time serving in the military made them eligible to access veteran-specific services.
  • The support landscape for ex-Service personnel in the criminal justice system is complex and both former personnel and some practitioners were unaware of 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:

  • Ensuring that the rationale for asking about service history is explained clearly when the question is asked.
  • Building 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.
  • Standardising the identification question to clearly convey eligibility and who the term ‘veteran’ or ‘ex-Service personnel’ covers.
  • Expanding and ringfencing 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 support ex-Service personnel who may be at risk of offending before they reach the criminal justice system, providing veteran-informed training, as well as 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, or stakeholders who supported them, 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, as well as outlining these barriers, looks at what can be done to remove them, create better understanding and ensure tailored support for ex-service personnel that do come into contact with the criminal justice system – this is the start of something better.”

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.”

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