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In response to public and parliamentary interest in the increasing number of prisoners identified as 'ex-forces', the SPS carried out a survey of military veterans across all 15 establishments to better understand the numbers involved and give these individuals the opportunity to comment on a range of issues that impact on their experiences in prison. Subsequently, each establishment across the SPS estate now has a Veterans in Custody Support Officer (VICSO).
From January 2011 to December 2011 the number of prisoners identified as Ex- Forces rose from 103 in January to 168 in December. This however may not be a true reflection of the exact numbers as for a prisoner to be identified he has to "self-report" either on initial admission to an establishment or making it be known during his sentence.
Each establishment across the SPS estate now has a Veterans in Custody Support Officer (VICSO). Ideally this is a nominated member of staff who has personally served in the Armed Forces. They will be better suited to the role as they will be fully aware of the terms and information being talked about, as well as having a working knowledge of the Armed Forces.
The main aim of the VICSO is to identify Ex-Armed Forces offenders at the earliest opportunity and then refer or signpost them onto community based Ex- Forces organisations. The VICSO works alongside and contributes to Offender Management as well as acting as a liaison between the offender and his Personal Officer and supervisors in the establishment.
Many of the Ex-Forces that are currently in the system were unaware of any support network or the fact that the Veterans in Custody Programme existed. On leaving the Armed Forces many of them felt on their own and not sure if there was any help they could access. From personal experience the resettlement phase of leaving the Forces can be a daunting and stressful time. Every effort is made to make personnel leaving the Armed Forces aware that there is an infrastructure in place and that the organisations are more than happy to offer help and support.
The community based organisations we work alongside are the Royal British Legion, Poppy Scotland, SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association), SPVA (Service Personnel and Veterans Agency), Combat Stress and RFEA (Regular Forces Employment Association). With many of the organisations mainly basing their help for the offender themselves, it is clear that the families also require assistance from time to time. Frontline Families is there for the families of Ex-Forces, and has been a huge help and gives the families a chance to talk to someone.
The organisations can offer help and support in many ways. They can help with financial as well as emotional support. Our first port of call with any referral of an Ex-Forces member serving a prison sentence is to SSAFA. They are best placed to offer support and much needed guidance. They are also ideally suited to obtain information about military records and information from the offender's parent unit whilst they were serving.
With the number of Ex-Forces increasing it is safe to say this is an issue that is not going to go away, and with all agencies working together we can help to provide support and guidance to the current prison population that have served in the Armed Forces."