For criminologists and sociologists, prison has for many decades provided a fertile environment for research. In recent decades, the focus has been on overcrowding, together with attempts to identify the composition of the prison population. As at 25 September 2009, Her Majesty’s Prisons contain some 84,382 incarcerated men and women.
On the same date the BBC reported that as many as 8,500 of these prisoners are former veterans of the British army, navy and air force. Moreover, this is not the whole picture as Napo, the Probation Office’s union, estimate that a further 12,000 plus ex-service personnel are being dealt with by the criminal justice system. For many of these men and women, their crimes relate to alcohol and drug abuse, as well as domestic violence. Although these crimes may not be unique to ex-service personnel, claims have been made by Napo that ‘[i]t’s the hidden kind of consequences of war.’ In essence, the very nature of their military career—be it post-traumatic stress disorder, or a lack of support upon leaving the services—can make the return to “civvy street” highly problematic.
Despite the government’s insistence that this particular concern is at the ‘forefront of the prime minister’s mind,’ it does raise some very interesting issues. The British media often appears to present issues in very black and white terms. Arguably the terms hero and villain are so diametrically opposed it is difficult to imagine how they will portray these particular individuals.