With an official diagnosis of FASD, individuals with FASD are more likely to be connected to helpful services and supports.  As a result, they are more likely to avoid involvement with the criminal justice system altogether. See [diagnosis section/ Recognizing] for challenges with and approaches to assessment generally, and also [Indigenous/ Lori’s content] for approaches with Indigenous populations.

Despite this, one 2019 report noted that despite the high prevalence estimates of FASD in corrections, “Correctional Services Canada still does not have a reliable or validated system to screen or identify this spectrum disorder at intake.” For example, it was reported in 2017 that Correctional Services Canada funded only 7 FASD assessments in the year 2016.

Screening for FASD should be facilitated as soon as possible following sentencing. Observations noted during custodial remand, or pre-sentencing assessments, may help identify the need for an FASD assessment.  The corrections system can then use information gathered early during a person’s sentencing process to consider and respond to their needs during incarceration as well as when preparing for community release.  Individuals with FASD do not have identical behaviours and reactions. indicators of possible FASD that may be evident during incarceration include:

  • Victimization and exploitation by other inmates
  • Involuntary distractibility and poor concentration
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviours
  • Difficulty in recognizing and setting interpersonal boundaries
  • Mental health concerns, such as extreme anxiety and panic as well as depression
  • Reactions such as withdrawal or aggressive outbursts when feeling overwhelmed
  • Intense mood swings
  • Emotional immaturity
  • Grandiose (exaggerated) sense of self and an unrealistic view of the world
  • Sensitivity to external stimulation like noise, crowds, bright lights, etc.
  • Difficulty managing stress, sometimesresorting to self-harming behaviours
  • Difficulty with activities of daily living, such as personal hygiene, time management, etc.

In conducting interviews with collateral sources or in reviewing reports, correctional professionals may look for the following predisposing factors to FASD:

  • Early onset conduct problems including disruptiveness in school, dishonesty, and aggression
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, including poor concentration, restlessness, risk-taking, and impulsivity
  • Lower intelligence and poor school attainment
  • Parental alcoholism
  • Parental criminality
  • Separation from parents, poor supervision, and parental conflict

Additionally, there is a “Proposed Model Standard for Forensic Assessment of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders” in the criminal justice context:

Offense Conduct

  • Impulsive and illogical actions with high risk of detection
  • “Simple” offense plan (focus is only on the objective)
  • Poor exit strategy
  • Aggressive over-reaction to unforeseen events (“fight or flight”)
  • More sophisticated/experienced co-defendants

Arrest Conduct

  • Immediately or easily waives rights
  • Suggestible (e.g. tries to give the “right” answer, over confesses)
  • Brags about prowess or takes full responsibility if co-defendants
  • Emotionally detached from crime (shows little remorse)
  • Childlike behaviour (breaks down in tears, infantile responses)

Interview with Client

  • Short stature (not always)
  • Unstable lifestyle
  • Lacks social judgment, immature, naïve
  • Eager to please or appears stubborn and challenged to explain
  • Can’t provide coherent, detailed narrative
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Doesn’t seem to remember what you tell him/her from appointment to appointment

Prior Legal History

  • Easily led by peers
  • Multiple low-grade offenses in teen years, often with co-defendants
  • Lots of stealing
  • Puzzling offenses (e.g., stealing something with little value)
  • Oblivious to risk
  • Impulsive, opportunistic crimes
  • Probation violations

Life History

  • Mom abuses alcohol/drugs
  • Involvement with child welfare
  • Adoption/foster or relative placements/juvenile commitment
  • Learning disabilities in school
  • Mental health diagnoses in childhood (especially ADD/ADHD)
  • Anger control challenges
  • Rule-breaking behaviours in childhood (lying, cheating, stealing, fighting)
  • Disrupted education
  • Substance abuse
  • Poor understanding of personal boundaries
  • Difficulty living independently
  • Poor employment history

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