The Experience of Imprisonment amongst former military service personnel

Mr Daniel Packham1
1The University of Cambridge, Institute of Criminology, United Kingdom

Former military service personal comprise approximately 3.5-5% of the total prison population of England and Wales (DASA 2010). When imprisoned, they are in the somewhat unusual position of having already experienced life within a Total Institution and may find familiarity in the male-dominated, structured, hierarchical and regimented regime of the prison (Goffman 1961). Yet, little academic research has focused on this distinct sub-group of the prison population.

Drawing on in-depth qualitative interviews conducted in five prison establishments, the study on which this paper is based explores the views, attitudes and experiences of approximately 40 former military service personnel currently serving prison sentences in England and Wales. In particular, it analyses how former military prisoners cope with imprisonment, how they build and maintain relationships with other prisoners and staff and how they perceive the power, authority and legitimacy of the state, all as they negotiate diminished social status and conflicting identities.

This paper will present preliminary findings from this study which suggest that ex-military prisoners often retain a military identity, carried from the military through to civilian and eventually prison life. This includes a set of cultural norms, values and beliefs, or a “military mind-set”, that tends to promote self-control, self-restraint and an ability to cope with physical and mental hardships, thereby promoting compliance with the prison regime and assisting prisoners to cope with prison life. These findings discussed in this paper could have important implications for the management and rehabilitation of ex-military prisoners.


Daniel Packham began his career in the British Army, serving in the infantry in Afghanistan and Iraq. After leaving the UK military, he joined the police, first as a civilian and then as a Police Officer serving seven years in front-line operational policing. Daniel then left the police to complete his M.Phil in Criminological Research at the University of Cambridge before continuing on to pursue his PhD part-time, also at Cambridge. While completing his PhD, Daniel has spent the last five years working full-time in UK Government conducting research and analysis in justice, policing and international affairs.


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