“You wanna know what it’s all about”: Art with Veterans in Custody

“what it means to have served ones country and later to serve a prison sentence”


Dr Emma Murray is a Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice at Liverpool John Moores University. Emma’s research focuses upon the welfare of veterans’, particularly those convicted of a crime in England and Wales and how we might better understand them in policy, critical pedagogy, and through art.

TDegenhardt Dr. Teresa Degenhardt is a Lecturer in Criminology at Queen’s University Belfast and a Fellow of the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. Teresa has worked on the intersection between war, crime and punishment in discourses on the war on terror, on military interventions, and the development of border security technology.

On April 6th, 2017, The Separate System[1], a film made by artist Katie Davis, in collaboration with military veterans in prison was premiered at FACT (Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology), Liverpool. As part of a broader event entitled ‘To Serve’, the audience were asked to consider what it means to have served ones country and later to serve a prison sentence. As the Chair and invited guest (respectively), we were tasked with responding to the film – an art work ‘owned’ by many – which attends to the visceral experiences of military life and the criminal justice system. Over the moving images and sounds of the prison and public spaces in the film, veterans speak their narratives to their imagined audience. Indeed, the audio alone is important and through this work their voice has a platform. The notable lack of veterans voices in discourses of the convicted veteran has already been suggested as a glaring omission (Murray 2016; Treadwell 2016), as such this platform is empowering. As the literature on war and the military continues to emerge with vibrancy in criminology, we contend that this artwork invites those veterans who participated into our theorising – placing the embodied and aesthetic experiences of their lives as they know them in sharp focus.

Our Approach

It is important to note that this was not a research project but an art project – and we do not intend to ‘evaluate’ the art but rather harness some of the key messages, as we see them, for further criminological enquiry. We approach this artwork, conscious that experiences of war, and of the criminal justice system are inherently embodied and sensual, as is becoming a soldier, a veteran, and a criminal. As such, we see this an opportunity to engage with those aspects of the convicted veteran’s life experiences that are difficult to capture through language. Crucially, this socially engaged process of knowledge production offers insights which were signed off by veterans themselves.

Our inquiry focusses upon two broad questions:

  1. What does this form of engagement with veterans in custody offer to criminological scholarship on war and the military?
  2. What might veterans in custody gain through their collaboration?

We do not claim to be able to answer these questions in detail here, nor do we have the space to attend to all which the work has to offer. Instead we bring three stills[2] from the film to bear upon our current work and thinking on war, criminal justice, and those who have experienced both. And believe that the images selected (and those that fall outside of our remit here) have the potential to advance our understanding of the personal, symbolic, material, relational and transformative aspects of veterans in custody lived experiences.

Embodying the Separation

From the opening scenes we are invited into consider the separation that the ‘convicted veteran’ perceives of body and place because of the attached label. Their veteran status separates them from others in custody, and their conviction separates them from more dogmatic images of what it means to be a veteran to society more broadly. Or at least this is their perception.

The Faceless Body


This image without the face, appears to us amid the sounds of prison doors closing, symbolising the moment when the often-uniformed ways in which we come to know the veteran (epitomising a sovereign’s pride and bravery) is left behind. The symbolic power of the faceless body offers an insight into the visceral perception of those who participated. It also reminds researchers to be mindful of the ontological and epistemological questions necessary when placing veterans in custody into a broader critical criminological commentary. Particularly to ensure that the socially constructed, yet self-constituting experience of being a veteran, isn’t overlooked.

The Space of Separation

One becomes a veteran in civilian society. The veteran status serving as further evidence of the separation between the military and the civilian space which they serve, or at the very least that military experience, once disclosed, alters how one is understood. The convicted veteran however, is removed further. The spaces of multiple separation portrayed in this film offer an insight not into how the convicted might understand their identity and place in society, but the space (i.e. the military or the prison)  in which new forms of subjectivity (i.e. the convicted veteran) are created and exercised through the individual.


The prison wing captured through this image makes visible the distinction, representing the materiality of the disciplinarian techniques deployed by the state to contain and separate this violence from military violence. Here, the convicted veteran represents a glitch in that governmental machine – a failure of disciplinarian techniques and their separation.

“Civvie Street” or War landscape?

WarSeparation is, of course, the works’ recurring theme. Separation however, is also relational – occurring only with reference to that from which one is separated (whether physical, imagined or otherwise).  For the veterans who feature in this film, that is civilian society – or “Civvie-Street”. The destruction apparent in the last image chosen for this piece captures the demolition of a building in Liverpool. Working closely with Katie, veterans can share memories of war, evoked in an otherwise ‘peaceful’ street, noting how the clear distinction between inside/outside, us/them, good/bad, war/punishment and peace/war are more problematic than ever in the 21st century (Degenhardt 2010; Loader and Percy 2012). Through this image, veterans themselves, share how they have experienced that complexity, and how that complicates their resettlement post-service. The continual reference to ‘Civvie-Street’ might also remind us that while both the military and criminal justice are important to studies of the convicted veteran – our subjects have a third reference point – society.

Projecting the Voice

Aware that their work will have many audiences, those involved took the opportunity to project their truth across the prison wall, and back to the civilian society they find so difficult to be part of. Telling us of the struggles of routine tasks which were done for them in the military, and of how civilians had asked them questions about their deployments, urging them to confess of the violence they may have experienced and indeed committed. They tell us how they had felt betrayed by the state, and how it has included and excluded them for violence. As an audience we hear of the importance of using your weapon, the fitness, the safety, and the difficulty to adjust to civilian norms and law. They tell us of bullying and of how they were discharged (through a letter). Their voices, and the parts of their bodies which they chose to share (such as their eyes and tattoos), a sort of performativity depicting the gaze and the marks of their experience of both state institutions.


As 2018 draws ever closer, these insights are of growing importance. It is a year which marks the end of the centenary of World War 1 (1914-1918); twenty years since Ruth Jamieson (1998) published her seminal chapter ‘Towards Criminology of War’, urging us to consider the complex connection between war and crime; and ten years since National Association of Probation Officers report made national news with their claims about the prevalence of veterans serving a sentence in prison or in the community in England and Wales. Each serving as important reference points for the study of war within criminology. Taken together, these three milestones reveal how war, its violence and its affect are represented, reproduced, and imagined in way which ask us to question the distinction between military and civilian life, connections, and distinctions between total institutions such as the prison, and the military – and the liminality of the ‘veteran offender’ upon such thresholds.

Arts with Veterans in Custody?

Which brings us back to our questions. We hope to have demonstrated the potential of this form of engagement with veterans to unearth some of the most complex understanding of the experience of conflict and conviction, those that can hardly be expressed through language. When veterans collaborate with artists in this way, affective understandings of themselves can be harnessed and reproduced through creative practices which are inclusive and participatory. In art we see the capacity to produce culture- rather than just express it – where culture is intended to be that which connects human beings. When veterans collaborate in such projects, they tell more than their story, they also ask their audience to interrogate their own schemes of intelligibility.



Degenhardt, T. (2010) ‘Representing War as Punishment in the War on Terror’, International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, 3 (1): 343-358.

Jamieson, R (1998) ‘Towards a Criminology of War’ in Vincenzo, R; South, N & Taylor, I. (Eds) The New European Criminology, Crime and social order in Europe London: Routledge.

Loader, I, and Percy, S (2012) ‘Bringing the ‘Outside’ In and the ‘Inside’ Out: Crossing the Criminology /IR divide’ Global Crime 13: 213

Murray, E. (2016) ‘The Veteran Offender: A Governmental Project in England and Wales’, in McGarry, R & Walklate, S. (Eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Crime and War. Palgrave MacMillan.

Treadwell, J. (2016) ‘The Forces in The Firing Line? Social Policy and the ‘Acceptable Face’ of Violent Criminality’, in McGarry, R & Walklate, S. (Eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Crime and War. Palgrave MacMillan.


[1] The Separate System (2017) Katie Davies with Andy, Billy, Callum, Danny, Gaz, Gaz, Jay, Jonno, Mark, Mark, Paul, Rob and Trevor. Commissioned and produced by FACT. Supported by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. With thanks to HMP Altcourse and HMP Liverpool. Available at https://vimeo.com/228801873

[2] The Separate System (2017) video still, © Katie Davies, commissioned and produced by FACT, supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation, all rights reserved


Emma Murray, Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice, Liverpool John Moores University  E.T.Murray@ljmu.ac.uk, @Emma_T_Murray

Website: https://www.omva.co.uk/

Teresa Degenhardt, Queen’s University Belfast t.degenhardt@qub.ac.uk

Copyright free images: from the authors.

What role should the military, or military methods, have in law enforcement?

John Lea explores the increasingly blurred boundary between crime control and warfare in the context of police shoot to kill and drone killings of terrorist suspects

LeaphotoJohn Lea, Honorary Professor of Criminology


At a recent public seminar at the LSE participants discussed the pros and cons of the militarisation of the ‘war’ against organised crime in the global south. Many of the themes, such as the very different skill sets of military and police with regard to communities, the tendency of the military to ride roughshod over human rights, and the counter-productive role of ‘war on crime’ rhetoric were familiar enough. But one theme I thought was crucial: how should the state respond when organised crime itself comes armed to the teeth with military-grade weaponry? In Mexico and many Brazilian favelas, for example, militarised police and drug traffickers battle it out, while criminal justice issues such as arrest and due process are reserved for the few survivors who come out with their hands up.

The issue of militarisation is of course about more than equipment and training. It is about aims. However heavily armed the police may be, a key aim of police work is to arrest offenders, gather evidence and prosecute. Violence is a last resort after warnings have been given. The aim of military action is, by contrast, to identify enemy assets, assess the risk they present, target and neutralise them with armed force. Violence is a first resort and pre-emptive action is legitimate. In historical practice the two paradigms are of course blurred, as various traditions of paramilitary public order policing illustrate.

Today they are merging in new ways. While military deployed in armed conflict zones often find themselves fulfilling a diversity of roles including policing, domestic criminal justice agencies increasingly adopt strategies which predispose us to accept military-style thinking when dealing with criminality. Pre-emptive action based on risk assessment of likely future activity is one example. ‘Pre-crime’ strategies range from anti-social behaviour injunctions to computerised ‘predictive policing’ popular in some US cities. In Chicago individuals on a computer generated Strategic Subjects List considered to be at risk of gun violence are referred to local police commanders for ‘preventive intervention’. But a key driver of risk-based pre-emptive policing is undoubtedly the ‘risk of catastrophic success’ in terrorist activity.

Counter-terrorism brings into the frame a much harder and more straightforward adoption of military methodology: ‘shoot to kill’. There is a history of ‘shoot to kill’ policies not only in British colonial policing, but also in the still clouded history of the ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland as shown by the fate of the Stalker Inquiry. The shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes as a mistaken terrorist suspect in London in 2005 raised questions about whether such a policy has ever been adopted by anti-terrorism policing in mainland UK. The shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 raised similar issues

Nevertheless, ‘shoot to kill’ has become overt UK government policy: though not yet in the UK itself – except obviously in cases where terrorist action is underway. With the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria the UK government has been contemplating the prospect of British Jihadis returning to the UK with combat and bomb making experience intent on causing havoc in our cities. Killing them by missiles fired from drones while they are still in the Middle East is now accepted policy. The US has been doing this for some time and so has the UK. In 2015  the British Jihadi Mohammed Emwazi, known as ‘Jihadi John’ was killed by in a drone strike over Syria. Around the same time Reyaad Khan and two other alleged British ISIS fighters were killed by RAF drones.

In early November (2017) the new UK Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, told The Sun newspaper he was “insisting we must carry on using drones to hunt down and kill any Brit-born IS jihadis bent on wreaking havoc.” Similar sentiments were voiced by International Development minister Rory Stewart. Earlier in the year the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright called, in a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, for the ‘updating’ of international law on the issue. Meanwhile it might be asked who puts together the ‘kill list’. The key decisions are apparently being made by the National Security Council chaired by the Prime Minister. At the time of the 2015 killings a spokesperson for the NSC said “It was about what action we should be taking to protect British people here in Britain.”

Such action to protect us is justified by two arguments. Firstly, the chaos in the Middle East makes conventional law enforcement and extradition impossible. Secondly, internet communication makes terrorist conspiracies which would have previously taken months to hatch organisable in a matter of days. So the ‘risk of catastrophic success’ has shifted such that traditional police action – allowing the conspiracy to develop to a certain stage to yield evidence of intent –  is far too risky and it is deemed necessary to take pre-emptive action before the plot has matured sufficiently to yield the type of evidence of criminal conspiracy that would stand up in a normal criminal court.

Such arguments have been around for some time. In the immediate post 9/11 period they were used as justification for pre-emptive arrest or restrictions on liberty by anti-terrorist control orders. Now they are being used as a justification for pre-emptive action against individuals by military forces: the RAF acting in Syrian airspace.

There is no doubt a political assumption being made that the British public will put up with such killings as part of the general chaos in the Middle East. Allowing the Jihadis to return to the UK would make such pre-emptive killing unacceptable. The individuals would rather have to be subject to Terrorist Protection and Investigation Measures (under 2011 legislation) and closely watched for evidence of terrorist-related activity. This would be, so the argument goes, expensive, time consuming and not fail-safe.

Drone killings have of course been the subject of widespread criticism, not to say outrage.  Quite apart from the moral issue of extra-judicial assassination there is also the question of inaccuracy. Military hardware is not designed to kill individuals but groups of enemy soldiers. Rarely is collateral damage avoided. In the US case, according to the website The Intercept, “Between January 2012 and February 2013, U.S. special operations airstrikes killed more than 200 people. Of those, only 35 were the intended targets” and to cover this up the US military were designating all dead as EKIA – enemy killed in action. There is no reason to assume that UK operations are any more precise.

So the military become corrupted by corrupt methods. The corruption of the military was one of the interesting themes which came up at the LSE seminar on the role of the military in the ‘war on drugs’. It was noted how in Mexico the army began as a force against the drugs cartels but then lost its bearings and sections peeled off and collaborated with the traffickers. The ‘clandestine policing’ of terrorist suspects by drone killing contains its own quite different pressures which nevertheless may lead to a loss of bearings by military operatives. Anyone who has seen films like ‘Eye in the Sky‘ or ‘Good Kill‘ will know what I’m talking about.

So what is the alternative? The critique of the ‘war on drugs’ is focused on de-criminalisation and the shift to a harm-minimisation approach.  Such policy is at least relatively straightforward and is gathering momentum, including in Latin America. It is naive to image, however, that it will remove organised crime as a major actor.

It is far more complex and controversial to devise an alternative to the ‘war on terror’ . To publically admit its failure and indeed counter-productive role takes political courage. Even more so to call for amelioration of the socio-economic conditions that give rise to terrrorism. Nevertheless perhaps a revival of the idea of an ‘ethical’ UK foreign policy based on democracy and human rights in the Middle East is now overdue. Maybe Labour will deliver on this? Meanwhile in domestic social policy, working to integrate rather than effectively criminalise the communities in which terrorists may seek sanctuary – the equivalent of a ‘harm minimisation’ approach – remains highly controversial.



John Lea is Honorary Professor of Criminology at the University of Roehampton UK. He has written widely on criminological theory, criminal justice, crime and war. His publications include (with Jock Young) What Is to Be Done about Law and Order? (1984); Crime and Modernity (2002)


Copyright free images: from author.

The BSC in the North West of England

Account of recent activity by the North West Branch of the British Society of Criminology

Higher education institutions across the North West of England have been teaching and researching criminology for a number of decades, and a quick scan of university websites reveals that criminology programmes are offered in some form at Lancaster, Liverpool (Liverpool University, John Moores or Hope University), Manchester (Manchester University or Met), Salford, Edge Hill University, UCLAN, Chester, Cumbria, Bolton and Blackburn. It is debatable whether there is a distinct North West ‘brand’ of criminology, but there is certainly ample evidence of sustained critical scholarship and for theoretically innovative and policy engaged research. The North West Branch of the British Society of Criminology has sought to provide a platform for this research, and for many years it has co-ordinated an annual competition where academics from North West universities have been given the opportunity to submit proposals for part-funding of research events. The resultant events have clearly reflected the diversity of North West criminology.

The very first event in this series – a symposium entitled ‘Whose side are we on? The state of contemporary British criminology’ was hosted by the University of Liverpool in January 2007. The symposium was addressed by Professor Maureen Cain, Professor Tim Hope, the late Professor Barbara Hudson and Professor Joe Sim and it signalled the start of a range of BSC activity in the region that remains to this day. In 2014, for example, the University of Liverpool hosted the annual British Society of Criminology conference and, in April of the same year, Edge Hill University hosted a regional research seminar on the theme “Adolescent-to-Parent Violence: Current Issues and Future Priorities”. This was followed in April 2015 by an event held at Salford University: “Public Criminology and the 2015 General Election”. In May 2015 we shifted venue to Liverpool Hope University for “Critical Reflections on the Relationship between Punishment and Desistance” and, in 2016, two further seminars were held, the first in May at Manchester Metropolitan University on “Extremism and Counter-Extremism: Changing Images, Emerging Realities”. The second was in June 2016 when the University of Liverpool hosted a seminar on “Criminology, Criminal Justice and the Ex-Military Community: The Way Ahead”. In 2017 we were able to contribute towards the funding of three seminars. The first was in April at Liverpool Hope University, on “Low level Sanctions: The Business of Courts and Criminology?”. This was followed a month later by a seminar on “Ethics in Criminological Research” at Lancaster University, plus a seminar on “Violence, Culture and Victimhood” at the University of Liverpool. We hope to continue to contribute to further seminars this coming year and beyond and already have some exciting plans for 2018.


For future information about events see the Regional Group section of the BSC website

Professor Andrew Millie is Professor of Criminology at Edge Hill University. His research draws on aspects of philosophy, theology and human geography to inform criminological debates and his latest book Philosophical Criminology was published in September 2016. Andrew is also well known for his research on policing and anti-social behaviour.



Professor Barry Goldson has been a Professor at the University of Liverpool since 2006 and, from 2009, he has held the Charles Booth Chair of Social Science. His principal research interests are situated at the inter-disciplinary interface(s) of criminal justice, criminology, law, social/public policy, social and economic history, sociology and socio-legal studies. He is perhaps best known for his work on youth justice.