Written evidence submitted by Dr Justin Moorhead and Dr Carly Lightowlers to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill


Dr Moorhead’s research is concerned with veteran offenders implicated in violent offences and explores the role alcohol played in their offending. Many of those interviewed within the research were serving sentences in respect of domestic abuse, however, other violent offences were also explored. This research emphasised, a greater understanding around this population in the criminal justice system and proposed an intervention model to support criminal justice practitioners when working with veterans.

What follows is a brief overview of the concerns that exist around veterans in the criminal justice system, findings from Moorhead’s (2020) research and recommendations around the need for further insight into the veteran in the criminal justice system.



We welcome the Consultation on the Armed Forces Bill 2019-21 and think our research could help inform its development. Below, we address primarily the questions posed the consultation as follows:

In seeking to evaluate interventions and support services around substance misuse for veterans, it is important to consider this population within the criminal justice system in particular. The veteran was ultimately a ‘hidden’ populace until, in 2008, the National Association of Probation Officers[1],[2] highlighted the ‘alarming’ numbers of veterans in prison and probation. Whilst some progress has been made in this area, there remains a lack of robust data about this group and their substance misuse, resulting in veterans engaging in programmes designed for the civilian offending population, rather that bespoke interventions which integrate nuanced understandings around the military life course and veterans’ experiences therein. Even where veteran specific interventions do exist, these are often generalised, on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, and have little joined up and consistent policy associated.[3],[4]

Violence is the most common offence that veterans are convicted for.[5],[6] Equally, alcohol is not only a well-known risk factor associated with violent offending in civilians, but also cultural phenomenon associated with military life.[7]

The veterans interviewed articulated a strong alcohol related (and violent) military culture, which pervaded beyond transition to civilian life. Alcohol represented a mechanism to bond, to socialise, to bring troops together, to confer masculinity and status, to solve problems and/or to escape from them. Seeking support around this was seen as displaying weakness and military informed/enhanced pride prevented this access from taking place. Beyond this environment, in transition to civilian life, a loss of status, position, pride and self-worth all were identified as further factors that resulted in alcohol use and avoiding support around this issue. For some veterans, using alcohol as self-medication for PTSD was also a factor that exacerbated their potential for violence.

Alcohol use and its links to violence were consistent with existing literature (in particular around domestic abuse) to that of a civilian population, however, the military experience was found to hold additional, unique issues and risk factors. Experience of military service conferred additional risks and needs that require nuanced consideration around intervention with this population and therefore tailored support is necessary to engage with the veteran offending population. Specific consideration around military life, exposure to cultures aligning closely to violence, alcohol, masculinity, pride, even trauma and mental health issues, require integration into criminal justice practice, to start to effectively engage with the veteran offender.

Further research is required to garner a deeper understanding of veterans in the criminal justice system and their substance related needs and risks. We suggest that, until interventions begin to look at and interrogate alcohol related cultures (and violence) linked to the military, veteran offenders will remain a misunderstood and ill catered for group at risk of further (violent) offending. Whilst treatment for alcohol addiction is available for service personnel (through Defence Medical Establishment), insufficient provision of alcohol addiction support services are tailored specifically towards the unique needs of veterans or for those veterans who are drawn into the criminal justice system. This Bill represents an opportunity to challenge the ongoing stigma and intolerance towards addiction and help seeking amongst serving personnel and veterans and provide the health services (including military-specific addiction treatment services) veterans need to keep them and their families safe. In so doing, this will also limit the devastating impact on victims associated with their alcohol consumption



[1] Napo (2008) Ex-Armed Forces Personnel and the Criminal Justice System. London: Napo.

[2] Napo (2009) Armed Forces and the Criminal Justice System. London: Napo.

[3] Murray E (2016) The ‘veteran offender’: a governmental project in England and Wales. In: McGarry R and Walklate S (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and War. London: Palgrave McMillian. pp. 313–330.

[4] Albertson K, Banks J and Murray E (2017) Military veteran-offenders: making sense of developments in the debate to inform service delivery. Prison Service Journal 234: 23–30.

[5] DASA (2010) Estimating the proportion of Prisoners in England and Wales who are ex- armed forces – further analysis. Defence Analytical Services and Advice. Ministry of Defence.

[6] DASA (2011) Estimating the proportion of offenders supervised by probation trusts in England and Wales who are ex-armed forces. Defence Analytical Services and Advice. Ministry of Defence.

[7] The Howard League for Penal Reform (2011) Report of the Inquiry into Former Armed Service Personnel in Prison. London: The Howard League for Penal Reform.






22 March 2021

Written evidence submitted to the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill