Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and the criminal justice system

Dev Disabil Res Rev. 2009;15(3):250-7. doi: 10.1002/ddrr.66.


The life-long neurological impairments found in people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), including learning disabilities, impulsivity, hyperactivity, social ineptness, and poor judgment, can increase susceptibility to victimization and involvement in the criminal justice system (CJS). Individuals with FASDs become involved in the CJS as complainants, witnesses, and accused. Their disabilities, resulting from the prenatal alcohol exposure, must be considered at all stages in the legal process. Adverse experiences, such as having a dysfunctional family background, mental health problems, and substance use disorders, are compounding factors. Experiencing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse also increases the risk that these individuals will become involved in the CJS. It is critical that everyone involved in the CJS receives education and training to understand FASD and the implications for the individual offender. A comprehensive medical-legal report, prepared by professionals experienced with FASD, can help judges and lawyers understand the complex interactions among brain damage, genetics and the environment. Corrections workers and probation officers need to comprehend the significance of FASD and how it affects the offender's abilities to understand and follow rules and probation orders. Caregivers and parents need to be involved whenever possible. Early recognition of the disabilities associated with FASDs may help reduce the over-representation of this group in the CJS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Crime Victims / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disability Evaluation
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / epidemiology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / psychology
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Inservice Training
  • Intelligence
  • Juvenile Delinquency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Juvenile Delinquency / psychology
  • Juvenile Delinquency / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Pregnancy
  • Socialization
  • Young Adult