Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a diagnostic term used to describe impacts on the brain and body of individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. FASD is a lifelong disability and it's estimated that between 3-5% of babies born in Aotearoa annually will have FASD.
Individuals with FASD will experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation, and social skills to reach their full potential.
Each individual with FASD is unique and has areas of both strengths and challenges – but having FASD can drastically increases a person's risk of contact with the criminal justice system.
FASD in the Justice System - the basics
People with FASD most often present as neurotypical: the majority can appear capable, informed, competent and talkative upon initial encounter, which is why it's referred to as the hidden disability. However, when asked more in-depth or abstract questions, it becomes obvious that their understanding may be incomplete or minimal; individuals will very often tell interviewers what they think they want to hear to get out of a stressful situation. This leads to high risk of miscarriages of justice – which those in the sector must address.
According to a 2019 study in Canada, over 30% of individuals in the penal system presented with FASD – an earlier study found that those with FASD were found to be 19 times more likely to be incarcerated (Popova et al 2011).
The Banksia Hill Detention Centre project in Western Australia found high rates of neurodisability and a rate of 36% with diagnosed FASD. An earlier study in America found that 60% of individuals who had been diagnosed with FASD ran into trouble with the law (Streissguth et al, 1996).
In the absence of any New Zealand studies we can assume that the situation is no better, due to the relatively high incidence of drinking in pregnancy.
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