FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society
FASD in the Court System
2002 Teresa Kellerman

Many individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) have been in trouble with the law, as indicated by research and as families learn from experience. Ann Streissguth's recent long-term study of secondary disabilities reveals that of the 415 individuals with FASD who completed the study, 60% of the adolescents and adults have been in trouble with the law for various crimes, ranging from shoplifting to domestic violence.

Trouble with abusing alcohol and other drugs is another common problem in this group of individuals. In the same study, Streissguth's research indicates that 50% of the men and 70% of the women with FASD have problems with alcohol or other drugs.

There is an overlap with these two groups. Of those who get into trouble with the law, 80% have problems with alcohol/drug abuse. The reasons might be more easily understood when one learns more about the brain dysfunction that is apparent in individuals with FASD. More often than not, an individual with FASD will eventually be challenged with navigating the court system, either in the criminal courts or the drug courts.

Here is a real life example of how easily a child with FASD can get into the criminal injustice system: A teen with FASD was arrested at school under the new anti-terrorism law for answering a question on a test. The question (an extra credit one) was, "What would you like to change about the school?" His answer was, "Blow it up." He was taken to jail immediately. This is a boy whom the school district knows has FASD. The principal told the mother that he has 3 A's on his report card, so he must know right from wrong. Two more true story can be found here: Expelled and Suspended

Below are links to documents that might be helpful to parents, lawyers, probation officers, and judges. These are intended not to make FAS or FASD an excuse, but to offer FAS or FASD as an explanation of why these individuals do what they do (make the same mistakes over and over, without learning from the consequences of their actions). Some documents are in MS Word format, others are web pages. All can be printed and shared with court system professionals and families in the interest of assisting in formulating a program that will maximize success for the individual, with the goal of keeping the person out of the court system and functioning in the social environment without jeopardizing the safety of themselves or others.

The following web sites have information related to FAS and Crime: Trainings, presentations, and workshops on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the court system are available:

Last update: October 10, 2005Return to the FAS Community Resource Center