Little progress has been made on the concept of sending Dorset criminals to Dorset jails – according to the county’s police and crime commissioner.

But Martyn Underhill says he now has higher hopes of a special unit being set up for former South West services personnel at HMP Portland.

He told the police and crime panel in Dorchester on Tuesday that talks about a 36-bed unit within the prison were continuing which, he hoped, would be able to offer specialist support and a release programme more in tune with the needs of former military personnel.

Mr Underhill has been campaigning for the unit, supported by others, including South Dorset MP, Richard Drax.

He told the committee that the unit was not yet agreed, but progress was in the right direction and he was encouraged by the reception the idea was now receiving.

It is argued that veterans should be partially segregated from other inmates with research indicating that they are more prone to suffer specific psychological problems needing additional support both while inside and on release. Former military staff also suffer a disproportionate level of homelessness compared to others in society and commit a disproportionate amount of crimes of serious violence and sexual offences.

More than 2,500 former veterans entered the prison system in 2017, according to the Ministry of Justice, making up almost 5 per cent of the country’s total prison population.

Mr Underhill said that the idea of local prisoners being sent to Dorset prisons was less successful with the Ministry arguing that the county did not have enough prisoners to justify a local jail for local people. Some do end up serving time locally but the majority are housed out of county.

Police and crime panel member Mohan Iyengar told the panel in Dorchester: “My argument is how can you rehabilitate successfully into society if you are in Channings Wood in Devon and it takes your relatives a five-hour trip on public transport to see you.”

Mr Underhill said he had been fighting for change in prison placements for Dorset prisoners for five years but admitted that little progress had been made on the issue.