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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and The Justice System


"Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy", according to the Diagnostic Guide for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders(FASD). There is a wide range of problems that can appear in a child whose mother drank alcohol during the pregnancy, for many years fetal alcohol syndrome was considered to be something completely different from all the others. Recently, the name Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was created to encompass all the developmental problems that may occur. We now understand that alcohol can damage the inside of a person without outward manifestations, making it very difficult for a doctor to discover that the mother had been drinking alcohol.

The justice system seems to be struggling with cases that involve FASD, primarily the ambiguities of the disorder. This is not the first time that medical science has come head to head with the justice system, it seems like the topic of sanity is always being argued because insanity can be acted out in order to deceive. FASD sometimes manifests itself as an inability to understand the consequences of one's actions, which, means an adult with FASD would be just like a child who cannot understand the difference between right and wrong. The problem is that because there are varying degrees of the disability some people know the difference and don't care - a more sociopath side of the disorder. How does a court punish a person who has chosen FASD as their defense?

Prosecutors and corrections officials know little about FASD which makes it even harder to rule in these matters. "Few states screen offenders for FASD, and those who break the law or rules are typically seen as intransigent, not victims of their disease. People with FASD can have normal intelligence but are immature and highly open to suggestion, experts say -- a mix that may make them seem more responsible for their actions than they really are", reported the Chicago Tribune .

60 percent of Americans with FASD have been in the criminal-justice system, a common disorder among prison inmates according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The courts rarely recognize FASD as a defense, and there are many people who have been convicted of a crime who would be better served in a facility outside of prison where they can learn how to function in the world without getting into trouble. We need to better educate authorities within the justice system so that people can get the help they need.

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