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Prison more likely for those prenatally exposed to alcohol

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Health Select Committee should take seriously Children's Commissioner Dr Russell Wills concerns about the increase of children with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders(FADS), says Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. FASD is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual prenatally exposed to alcohol.

"Research in Canada and the USA shows that children with FASD are 19 times more likely to end up in prison than those who are not affected. About 35% of young people with FASD end up in the criminal justice system, and over half have been in trouble with the law. Canadian research with young offenders showed that more than one fifth are behaviorally impaired due to prenatal alcohol consumption."

"While there has not been any local research into the incidence of FASD in prisons, there is every reason to believe that the situation is much the same here. It would be a forward step if all prisoners were screened for FASD, and then managed appropriately.

"These are typically the offenders who lack impulse control and have trouble thinking through the future consequences of their behaviour . They can't connect cause and effect, lack empathy toward victims, have difficulty taking responsibility for their actions, and make really bad decisions. In short, they are incapable of doing all the things we expect offenders to do after they commit a crime."

"Offenders with FADS are often the ones who get talked into committing crime by their mates, or who confess to crimes they didn't commit. They often break the law without intending to do so; such as touching people when it is unwanted, or taking property because they are attracted to it."

If they are unfortunate enough to end up in prison, there's very little that can be done for them. They often are manipulated by other prisoners, and victimised. Therapeutic programmes rarely work. They are better placed in an environment where they can get job training, family and community support, and proper medical care."

"While they may not commit serious crime, they are often repeat offenders engaging in the same sort of crime time and time again; for example theft, burglary and car conversion."

"Offenders with FASD represent a significant recurring cost within the criminal justice system. This is one of those cases where legislation which limits the access of alcohol to young pregnant mothers, would have a huge economic and social return on investment."

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