Nearly 2,600 British war veterans deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during the US-led invasion of the two countries have been imprisoned over the past year over committing violent crimes as well as sexual offences.
The figure represents between four and five percent of Britain’s total prison population, according to UK’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ), prompting concerns about the impact the military invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has had on the mental health of former members of the British armed forces, The Guardian reported Saturday.
The MoJ began identifying the convicted ex-soldiers as they entered the prison system in January 2015 after concerns over the management of British war veterans were raised in a review of the criminal justice system.
Based on the figures, the former members of the armed forces accounted for 721 of the “first receptions” from July to September 2015, the initial period when they were released.
The numbers, the report adds, appear to have dropped since, 545 arrived in the system in the same period a year later. In the year leading up to last September, 2,565 veterans were imprisoned.
The development came after historic murder conviction against British soldier Alexander Blackman, who shot dead a seriously wounded Taliban prisoner in Afghanistan, was overturned earlier in the week and replaced with the lighter charge of manslaughter on the grounds of “diminished responsibility,” according to the report.
Blackman’s lawyers argued that he had adjustment disorder at the time of the killing after “serving for months on the frontline in terrible conditions.”
Although the British veterns of the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan represent five percent of UK’s prison population, “but they represent a disproportionate number of serious violent offences and sexual offences, and that raises questions that need answering,” said Fraces Crook, the chief executive of independent charity organization, the Howard League for Penal Reform.
“These are not victimless crimes. They have a terrible effect on the victim,” he added.
Crook further added that several factors contributed to the number, including alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Research by the organization also found that 25 percent of former combat forces were in prison for sexual offences, compared with 11 percent of the civilian prison population.
The report further quoted a Defense Ministry spokesperson as saying, “Most former service personnel return to civilian life without problems and are less likely to commit criminal offences than their civilian counterparts, but we’re determined to help those who fall into difficulty, and last year awarded £4.6m to schemes targeted at tackling this issue.”
“The government has enshrined the Armed Forces Covenant in law to make sure veterans are treated fairly and receive the support they deserve, including with mental health issues, getting on the housing ladder, and applying for civilian jobs,” the official added.
British soldiers represented the second largest contingent of mostly Western military forces that took part in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 under the purported “war on terror” schemes. Nearly 15 years later, both countries are struggling with unrelenting incidents of terrorism amid growing suspicions that they have directly and indirectly aided the establishment of some terrorist elements in both countries.