FASD & the Justice System

Early diagnosis

If FASD is diagnosed early, interventions may be able to lessen its impact. For example, an effective management plan for ongoing supports can help prevent people with FASD from developing secondary disabilities and can help them lead more productive lives. Research shows that individuals exposed to alcohol before birth, who began participating in developmental programs between birth and age five, have experienced positive results. Employment coaching and supported living can also help the person with FASD to find and keep a job and become independent with ongoing supports. Despite their disabilities, people with FASD have many positive qualities and can enjoy very successful lives. (PHAC. 2008) “[A}ccurate and timely diagnosis is essentialto improve outcome, as misclassification leads to inappropriatepatient care, increased risk of secondary disabilities, missedopportunities for prevention and inaccurate estimates of incidenceand prevalence.” (Chudley, A., et al. 2005).  Sadly, however, most cases of FASD go undiagnosed.

Diagnosis at any point

Even if early diagnosis is not possible, diagnosis at any point will help justice professionals represent, prosecute and judge the affected individual in a manner that is consistent with his or her ability to control behavior, inform counsel, comprehend the judicial process, and understand the consequences of his or her actions. “FASD is not a new fad or the diagnosis du jour. It is an important diagnosis that has been missing from practitioners’ repertoires, one that leads to different and more effective interventions.” (Malbin, D.V. 2004)

Above all, “judges need legislative and appellate sanction to fashion FASD-sensitive dispositions.” (Moore, T. E. and Green, M. 2004). 

Until then, courts can still play an important role in increasing awareness of FASD and supporting development of effective strategies.  “Just by asking [whether FASD is a factor], a judge will validate the issue and encourage advocates and professionals to learn more about FASD and to take it into account when making recommendations to the court.  This, in turn, will contribute to increasing communities’ diagnostic and programmatic capacity and eventually lessen the burden of this at –risk population on the courts.”  (Malbin, 2004).