FASD & the Justice System

As noted in Schacht and LaDue’s 2003 training manual on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Associated Disabilities;

“Perhaps the five most consistent guiding principles for intervention with persons with FAS/ARND are structure, consistency, brevity, variety, and persistence.” (p. 112)

It is sometimes noted that individuals with FASD often do quite well within the prison environment and this is likely due to the structure and routine inherent to incarceration and correctional supervision.  Some of the factors that contribute to successful institutional adjustment include:

  • Being housed on a “safe” unit where offender activities are monitored to prevent the manipulation and abuse by other inmates that individuals with FASD often experience.
  • Keeping rules simple, consistent and easy to follow and sharing this information with all staff that interact with the individual.
  • Establish routines that the individual can grow to anticipate and look forward to.  As much as is possible, prepare the individual for changes in these routines, such as a change in staff or environment.
  • Adapting and developing supervision strategies and correctional interventions that match the individual’s level of functioning.  Keeping expectations and instructions concrete and feedback constructive is critical to success.
  • Providing the opportunity for work or meaningful activity contributes to a feeling of accomplishment and self-worth while also providing additional structure and variety.
  • Connecting the individual with positive supports within the prison environment, such as chaplains, tutors, work supervisors, Elders, etc., to encourage modelling of social skills and relationships.
  • Addressing health and mental health concerns and promoting healthy lifestyle practices and coping strategies.
  • Responding consistently and calmly to emotional outbursts and impulsive behaviours such as self-harm or destructiveness.
  • Facilitating opportunities to learn new life skills and activities of daily living such as money management, organizational skills, communication skills, personal hygiene, etc.
  • An institutional advocate appointed specifically to work with individuals with FASD to maximize strengths and assist functioning within the prison environment is optimal.
  • Transitions can be vulnerable times for individuals with FASD, so preparing for community release well in advance helps to prepare the individual for this change as well as to ensure that the necessary services and supports are in place.
  • Ensuring that all correctional staff have knowledge and understanding of FASD along with the interventions and supports that are necessary to successful reintegration.

Despite best efforts to provide a supportive environment in the correctional context, transitioning from institution to community can be quite challenging for an individual with FASD.  The next section explores suggestions for building community supports.