What is FASD?
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the umbrella term used to describe the range of impairments and disabilities caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. People with FASD always have permanent brain injuries. Other impairments can include:
What are the challenges of FASD for the justice system?
FASD presents many difficult challenges across the judicial system, from arrest through to corrections and parole processes. This website provides information for lawyers, judges, youth and community workers, police, and correctional services staff to help them better address these challenges and improve justice system outcomes for people with FASD.
This site also provides information on how to identify possible undiagnosed FASD, and strategies to work with people with FASD. We also compile research and information on Canadian caselaw involving people with FASD.
How many people involved in the justice system in Canada have FASD?
Prevalence of FASD in correctional systems overall in Canada is not known. But research on prevalence of FASD in the justice system overall suggests that FASD is significantly underdiagnosed.
In one Canadian study of adult inmates, 10% of the participants were diagnosed with FASD – and a diagnosis of FASD could not be ruled out with another 15% of the participants.
Prevalence of FASD in the youth correctional system is also high, although there are fluctuations in the data depending upon the method of study used and the availability of screening protocols. Four Canadian studies cited in a 2018 Australian study estimated prevalence of FASD amongst youth in custody as follows:
Indigenous people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and FASD may be especially prevalent in the Indigenous populations of incarcerated people. Anecdotal evidence suggests that up to 50 percent of Indigenous people who have been incarcerated have FASD.
What are the costs linked to FASD?
FASD carries very high costs for the affected individual, the family, the justice system, and overall society.
One study based on data collected in 2014 estimated the overall costs of FASD within the Canadian criminal justice system at $3.9 billion per year, broken down as follows: