Exploring the experience of military veterans involved in the Scottish criminal justice system.

   The Business School

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  Dr Gerardine Matthews-Smith  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Labelling theory suggests that identity is not just recognised by others but in fact created by it, occurring not only by the labels that are applied but in the reaction that happens because of those labels for both the individual and those who surround them. For veterans who are in prison the application of the criminal record identify becomes the ‘major status’ in which all other identities are subsumed (Edkins, 2008). For the veteran the loss of a potentially hard-won title in exchanged for one that defines them by what they have done represents a major fall from grace that as yet is not fully understood in the research literature. 

Military veteran status is now associated with a variety of criminal justice outcomes and is becoming a diversity subject to be considered by both the criminal justice system and academia. Little research has been conducted on the experience of these groups while in prison. Review of the literature suggests most research has tended to focus on why veterans end up as part of the justice system. This study will focus on the experience of veterans in custody and the impact of working with veterans as prisoners from the perspective of veteran prison officers. It will examine the current prison population and the trend for multiple admissions evient among this group. Moreover it will provide a detailed understanding of the support systems in place for veterans while in prison and following discharge, the impact of life sentences and issues of segregation related to crimes.

Research aims

·      Examine the extent to which the Scottish prison service is managing the relationship between veterans as inmates/ veterans as prison officers across its prisons.

·      Identify examples of best practice, and where possible the costs associated or resources required, and ways in which local authorities can improve delivery, taking into account their specific structures

·      Assess where disadvantage exists, identify what it looks like and establish what the causes are.

·      Assess where disadvantage has been reduced, establish how has this been achieved and identify what lessons can be learnt from this, including how other organisations can benefit from the lessons.

·      Identify and explore the challenges faced by the prison organisation and establish what the causes of those challenges are.

·      Evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on this sector, the services they deliver, their priorities and ultimately their ability to deliver both now and in the future.

·      Explore key issues related to multiple prison admissions among the veteran population.

Research approach

Realist evaluation is based on the notion that the same intervention will not work everywhere or indeed for everyone. Non observable entities or practices including culture, class or economic systems can have a tangible effect on how or if programmes work. This approach is especially useful for evaluating programmes that produce mixed outcomes to better understand how and why differential outcomes occur. The purpose of realist evaluation is to identify, articulate, test, and refine hypotheses related to combinations of the three concepts context, mechanism, and outcome (C-M-O), rather than determining outcomes in particular contexts. Bundling these CMOs together gives us a more nuanced understanding of how mechanisms act to produce positive or negative outcomes. It is envisaged the study will use a realist evaluation research design

Expected outcomes and impacts:

·      An in-depth understanding of the UK research landscape relating to veterans in prison in the Scottish system, including gaps in the extant evidence base, generated through a detailed literature review of academic and grey literature;

·      A substantive improvement in the understanding of a range of key demographic factors of veterans in Scottish prisons , generated through quantitative analysis of current available data and interviews;

·      An appreciation of the concerns, experiences and aspirations of veteran prison officers, working with veteran prisoners generated through qualitative interviews;

·      Empowering decision-makers to make improvements in policy and service provision based on the resulting evidence and recommendations.

Academic qualifications

A first degree (at least a 2.1) ideally in psychology/sociology with a good fundamental knowledge of research approaches specifically realist evaluation. Involvement in previous studies related to the armed forces would be a bonus.

English language requirements

IELTS score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in each of the four components). Other, equivalent qualifications will be accepted. Full details of the University's police are available online Application process (napier.ac.uk).

Essential attributes

  • Experience of fundamental independent academic and/or practice research projects at UG and/or PG level
  • Competent in mixed research methods/realist studies
  • Knowledge of research related to the armed forces
  • Good written and oral communication skills
  • Strong motivation, with evidence of independent research skills relevant to the project
  • Good time management

Desirable attributes

  • Experience of realist evaluation research design, or qualitative research approaches ,practical experience of armed forces service (Veteran or reservist). Experience of working with key armed forces stakeholders.

Interviews expected to take place between 3rd and 7th July.

Funding Notes

This is a fully funded doctorate. A standard Edinburgh Napier University studentship includes payment of full time fees for three academic years and 36 monthly stipend payments.


Baillargeon, J., Binswanger, I. A., Penn, J. V., Williams, B. A., & Murray, O. J. (2009). Psychiatric disorders and repeat incarcerations: The revolving prison door. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 166(1), 103–109. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.08030416
Finlay, A.K., Owens, M.D., Taylor, E. et al. A scoping review of military veterans involved in the criminal justice system and their health and healthcare. Health Justice 7, 6 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40352-019-0086-9
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