Two out of three former soldiers imprisoned in the UK have committed sexual, violent or drugs crimes, a report published by Ministry of Defence shows.
Comparisons with the general prison population reveal that ex-soldiers are twice as likely to be jailed for sex offences. The Government study estimates that 3.5 per cent, nearly 3,000 inmates, of the total prison population are military veterans, many of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now represent the largest single occupational group held behind bars in England and Wales.
There is also a marked increase in the proportion of military veterans convicted of violent offences, raising concerns about the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
While the vast majority of ex-military inmates are from the ordinary ranks, 21 offenders were found to be officers.
The most common offences were violence against the person (33 per cent) and sexual offences (25 per cent). Drug offences accounted for 11 per cent. But compared to the general prison population, veterans are far less likely to commit acquisitive offences such as burglary and theft.
Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the prison reform charity the Howard League, said: "These figures suggest veterans are less likely to appear in the prison system than the general population and also suggest veterans in prison are much more likely to be older and not have experience of current military engagement. Both of these facts reflect what the Howard League has recently learned is the experience in the United States. Nonetheless, veterans remain the largest single occupational group in prison and if we do not address this issue we will be building up future problems for the current generation who have fought and are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The latest figures also show an increase of 613 inmates from the last time the MoD looked at the ex-service prison population at the beginning of the year. The report says: "The estimate of the number of regular veterans in prison has been revised up to 2,820 (3.5 per cent of prisoners). The additional 613 prisoners will be older veterans who exited the regular armed forces prior to 1979 (Naval Service), 1973 (Army) or 1969 (RAF)."
The problem has increased to the extent that the number of former servicemen in prison or on probation or parole is now more than double the total British deployment in Afghanistan, according to a new survey published today. An estimated 20,000 veterans are in the criminal justice system, with 8,500 behind bars, almost one in 10 of the prison population.
A spokeswoman for the MoD said: "The number of veterans in prison is low compared to the total veteran population. The MoD works with voluntary and charitable sector organisations and other departments to raise awareness among the ex-service prison population of the help and support available to them and their families whilst they serve their sentence and as they prepare for release."