Intended for healthcare professionals


Why do some ex-armed forces personnel end up in prison?

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 23 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d3898
  1. Deirdre MacManus, specialist registrar in forensic psychiatry 1,
  2. Simon Wessely, director2
  1. 1Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London SE5 8AF, UK
  2. 2King’s Centre for Military Health Research, Weston Education Centre, King’s College London, UK
  1. deirdre.macmanus{at}

New report emphasises the role of alcohol, social exclusion, and financial problems

On 23 June the well respected Howard League for Penal Reform published their report on ex-serving armed forces personnel in prison.1 The league’s remit was to find out why so many of these people become involved in the criminal justice system, to explore the problems facing them on transition back into civilian life, and to look at the reasons underlying their offending behaviour. It is hoped that the report can provide information on how these individuals’ needs can best be met both in prison and in the community.

Concerns about how service personnel will reintegrate into society after war are nothing new. After the second world war, returning veterans were often seen less as heroes and more as potential social problems with violence and offending high on the list of concerns.2 Since 2001, more than 160 000 UK regular and reserve forces have been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both counties. There have been many accounts in the media of the challenges these individuals face in their transition back to civilian life, including problems related to housing, mental health, employment, relationship breakdown, and substance misuse,3 but also aggression, violent offending, and incarceration.4

Research examining the effects of war on psychological functioning has focused mainly on clinical outcomes, such …

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