FASD and the Criminal Justice System

fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) and the criminal justice system

FASD and the Criminal Justice System (PDF Version)

Individuals with an FASD are involved with the criminal justice system at an alarming rate. Youth and adults with an FASD have a form of brain damage that may make it difficult for them to stay out of trouble with the law. They do not know how to deal with police, attorneys, judges, social workers, psychiatrists, corrections and probation officers, and others they may encounter.

$6.0 Billion

The annual cost to the US of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome alone in direct and indirect costs.[9]

FASD by the Numbers:

  • 94% of individuals with an FASD also have a mental illness [1]
  • 50% of adolescents and adults displayed inappropriate sexual behavior [2]
  • 60% of people with an FASD have a history of trouble with the law [3]
  • 50% of individuals with an FASD have a history of confinement in a jail, prison, residential drug treatment facility, or psychiatric hospital [4]
  • 73-80% of children with full-blown FAS are in foster or adoptive placement [5]
  • FASD is 10-15 times more prevalent in the foster care system than in the general population.[6]
  • 61% of adolescents with an FASD experienced significant school disruptions[7]

Addressing FASD in the Criminal Justice System:

  • In 2012, the American Bar Association passed a resolution urging all attorneys and judges to receive training to help identify and respond effectively to FASD in the criminal justice system.
  • FASD is a range of brain conditions caused by prenatal alcohol exposure.
  • As many as 7,061 Minnesota babies are born each year with prenatal alcohol exposure.[8]
  • Young people affected by FASD are at increased risk for involvement with the juvenile justice system.

[T]here is hope. We can change how lawyers, clients, police, judges, probation officers, prison guards, and family members work with FAS clients.

– David Boulding, attorney for clients with an FASD

Issues Related to FASD and the Criminal Justice System:

  • False Confessions: they are vulnerable to confabulation and making false confessions.
  • Competency: the youth may be unable to understand the charges against them and participate in their own defense.
  • Diminished capacity: they may find it difficult to distinguish right from wrong, understand consequences or form intent.
  • Decisions to decline/remand/waive: youth are likely to be safer in a juvenile facility than an adult prison due to vulnerabilities.
  • Sentencing: attorneys may be successful in presenting FASD as a mitigating factor. Alternative/diversionary sentencing options should also be explored.
  • Treatment: court ordered treatment is sometimes the most appropriate intervention.

Reasons Individuals With an FASD Get in Trouble With the Law:

Research shows that individuals with an FASD have specific types of brain
damage that may cause them to get involved in criminal activity. Youth with an FASD are especially at high risk of getting into trouble with the law.
  • Lack of impulse control and trouble thinking of future consequences of current behavior.
  • Difficulty planning, connecting cause and effect, empathizing, taking responsibility, delaying gratification or making good judgments.
  • Tendency toward explosive episodes.
  • Vulnerability to peer pressure (e.g., may commit a crime to please their friends).

12.8

The average age children with an FASD begin having trouble with the law.[10]

Children with FAS often develop behavior problems that increase their risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

-NIAAA report

For Upcoming Trainings:

If you would like more information or want to schedule a training. Please contact Ruth Richardson, ruth@mofas.org or 651-917-2370

References:

[1] Streissguth, A.P.; Bookstein, F.L.; Barr, H.M.; et al. 2004. Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 25(4):228-238

[2] Streissguth, A.P.; Bookstein, F.L.; Barr, H.M.; et al. 2004. Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 25(4):228-238.

[3] Streissguth, A.P.; Bookstein, F.L.; Barr, H.M.; et al. 2004. Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 25(4):228-238.

[4] A. Streissguth et al.  Risk Factors for Adverse Life Outcomes in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Fetal Alcohol Effects, (2004) Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Vol. 25, No. 4 

[5] Burd, 2001; May, Hymbaugh, Aase, & Samet, 1983; Streissguth, Clarren, & Jones, 1985. Studies by May et al., (1983) and Streissguth et al., (1985)

[6] Ann Streissguth, Attaining Human Rights, Civil Rights, and Criminal Justice for People with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, TASH NEWSLETTER, September 1998, at 18.

[7] Streissguth, A.P.; Bookstein, F.L.; Barr, H.M.; et al. 2004. Risk factors for adverse life outcomes in fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 25(4):228-238.

[8] 2009 Annual MN Births, Minnesota State Demographic Center X current percentage of pregnant women who self-identify for drinking alcohol while pregnant from CDC (70,617 births X 10.2% or 1 in 10)

[9] Lupton, C.; Burd, L.; and Harwood R. 2004. Cost of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. American Journal of Medical Genetics 127C (671):42-50. 

[10] Natalie Novick Brown, Anthony P. Wartnik, Paul D. Connor, and Richard S. Adler, A Proposed Model Standard for Forensic Assessment of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, 38 J. OF PSYCH. & L. 383, 384 (2010).

Share this page:

Training & Webinars

MOFAS is the statewide source for comprehensive, customized trainings on FASD for professionals.

Learn More

Family Support

We provide guidance and support for families living with an FASD.

Get Support

Calendar

We host events, classes, support groups and more across Minnesota. There's something for everyone.

See Our Calendar
Toll-Free: 1-866-90-MOFAS (66327)  •  Primary Phone: 651-917-2370  •  2233 University Avenue West, Suite 395, St. Paul, Minnesota 55114
Copyright © 2017 Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome | Photos by Amy Zellmer, Custom Creations Photography.

This site is provided to families and professionals as an informative site on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It is not intended to replace professional medical, psychological, behavioral, legal, nutritional or educational counsel. Reference to any specific agency does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by MOFAS.