FASD & the Justice System

In 1998 researchers observed that “although there is substantial evidence suggesting a link between FASD and crime…. there are no known studies reporting the prevalence of FASD in prisons.” (Boland 1998). Since then a limited number of studies have tried to address the issue:

1999: A study of young Canadian forensic inpatients (287) who had been remanded for a psychiatric assessment, found that 1% met the criteria for FAS and 22.3% met the criteria for ARND (Fast and Conry, 1999).

2003:  A survey of Canadian correctional facilities identified 13 inmates out of 148,797 diagnosed with FASD in Canada.  The prevalence rate of 0.087 per 1000 was well below the estimated incidence rate among the general population.  These finding strongly suggest that individuals with FASD are not being identified in the justice system in Canada (Burd, L. 2003). 

2003 – 2005: A pilot project conducted by the PLEA Community Services Society, The Asante Centre for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development and funded by The Department of Justice Canada found that approximately 4.5% of youth on adjudicated probation orders in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Regions had FASD and another 26% were considered to be “at risk” for FASD.  The number of referrals and youth diagnosed with FASD made it clear that there are youth in the Youth Criminal Justice System with FASD that have not been identified or diagnosed (DOJ, 2005).  

2006 and 2007: Researchers screened offenders undergoing preliminary assessment at Stony Mountain Institution near Winnipeg. The study concluded that the incidence of FASD was ten times greater in the study sample compared to the general population (MacPherson, P. 2007).

2009:  Researchers interviewed victim service workers across Canada that work with victims with FASD.  Anecdotal information suggested that FASD is under-diagnosed among victims of crime (Fraser, C. 2009).

As these findings indicate, estimates of incidence among the justice population vary depending on study limitations, such as sample size.  As of March 2010, the prevalence of FASD among individuals within the justice population has not been fully established.