FASD & the Justice System

Incidence is the number of new cases and prevalence is the frequency in which they appear in the population at a given time.

There is active debate about whether Aboriginal people generally and Aboriginal offenders specifically, are over-represented as those with FASD.  Some studies support this proposition, while others refute it.  There is no conclusive evidence concerning offenders given the lack of screening for FASD within the Canadian justice and corrections systems. http://www.oci-bec.gc.ca/rpt/oth-aut/oth-aut20091113-eng.aspx

FASD rates in Aboriginal peoples vary widely in the few studies that have been done in Canada. Generalizations in the diverse populations of Métis, First Nations and Inuit are not possible.  No studies have examined incidence and prevalence generally for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations.

Diagnostic methods used in early studies may have led to inappropriate FASD labelling of Aboriginal peoples. Studies on drinking during pregnancy have focused disproportionately on Aboriginal women and the geographic areas in which they live, raising methodological concerns.  http://www.ahf.ca/publications/research-series

The 2009 National Co-ordinating Centre for Aboriginal Health (NCCAH) report concluded there is a need to better understand the prevalence of FASD in Aboriginal peoples, particularly given the perception that it is more prevalent among Canadian Aboriginal children.

The report concludes that the true extent of FASD in Aboriginal and non -Aboriginal populations is not known and that published estimates of the prevalence and incidence of FASD vary too widely in their methodologies to provide a basis for Aboriginal-specific rates.  http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/docs/child%20and%20youth/NCCAH-paper-FASD-aboriginalprevalencereview-sept2009-webready.pdf

Further, some Canadian Aboriginal-specific published studies focus on higher-risk communities, and may promote a perception of higher prevalence or incidence of FASD in the Aboriginal population.  However, the NCCAH report notes there is a clear health concern about this issue in Aboriginal communities.  http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/docs/child%20and%20youth/NCCAH-paper-FASD-aboriginalprevalencereview-sept2009-webready.pdf

In contrast, some studies suggest that Aboriginal individuals, including Aboriginal offenders, are disproportionately affected by FASD.  http://dsp-psd.pwgsc.gc.ca/collections/collection_2010/scc-csc/PS83-3-71-eng.pdf

In his work, Professor Larry Chartrand found: “A disproportionate number of persons with FAS/ARND are of Aboriginal heritage. Of the 40 offenders with FAS/ARND found in court cases identified in this paper, 31 of them were confirmed to be Aboriginal offenders, 5 non-Aboriginal and 6 unknown. Using only the reduced sample of known origin, over 86% of the cases reported of offenders with FAS/ARND involved Aboriginal offenders. This figure is consistent with the research reported in the literature that states that the proportion of Aboriginal persons with FAS/ARND is 10 times the national rate.” http://www.law.ualberta.ca/centres/hli/userfiles/Chartrand.pdf

A 2006 study by the Department of Justice on those appearing before (mental disorder) Review Boards, found that for both adults and youth

“… approximately 14% of Aboriginal accused had a confirmed or suspected FASD diagnosis compared to 0.2% of non-Aboriginal accused." http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/pi/rs/rep-rap/2006/rr06_1/p35.html

While Aboriginal peoples have among the highest rates of abstinence from alcohol, and drink less often than the general population, there are high levels of heavy use, such as binge drinking.  http://www.ccsa.ca/2007%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-011515-2007.pdf

Aboriginal communities may be more vulnerable to the devastating effects of alcohol because of geographic and social isolation, lack of economic opportunities, and the loss of culture, identity, and language as a result of historic policies of assimilation. Problematic substance abuse is linked high rates of poverty, family breakdown, unemployment, and poor social and economic structures among First Nations, Métis and Inuit. http://www.ccsa.ca/2007%20CCSA%20Documents/ccsa-011515-2007.pdf