FASlink Fetal Alcohol Disorders Society

Offender Profiles

This article has been included because the behaviour patterns of many FAS / FAE children / adults bring them into conflict with the law. Perhaps the judicial system needs to find a more appropriate response to individuals with these disabilities. Our thanks to the National Crime Prevention Council for their work in this area.


National Crime Prevention Council


Offender Profiles



The following general findings are drawn from studies involving Canadian federal male offenders (convicted and sentenced to 2 or more years of incarceration), unless otherwise indicated.

Family Violence

A national file review study of family violence among federal inmates, conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada, randomly sampled a total of 935 files of men admitted to federal facilities between June and November of 1992.1 The study revealed the following estimates:

  • 1 in 3 inmate files identified some indication of family violence where the offender was the perpetrator (partner abuse, child abuse), that involved a formal response by the legal system.

  • In over 1/2 of the cases where the male offender had either physically or sexually abused a female partner, a physical injury that required medical attention was inflicted on the victim.

  • In 1/3 of the cases where the male offender had physically or sexually abused a child, a physical injury requiring medical attention was inflicted on the victim.

  • Almost 1/2 of the inmate files showed that the offender had been a victim of child abuse (physical, sexual, psychological, neglect) as children/adolescent, or had witnessed family violence.

  • In 3/4 of the childhood victimization cases (excluding witnessing) identified in institutional files, offenders had been abused (physical, sexual, psychological, neglect) by their fathers. In less than 1/2 of the cases, the offenders were abused by their mothers.

  • In 2/3 of the cases where the offender witnessed abuse as a child/adolescent, the victim was the mother (or adult female). In the majority of cases, the abuse witnessed was physical.

  • Offenders who had been victimized as children were more likely to be perpetrators of family violence as adults.

  • Witnessing abuse as a child was also strongly related to adult perpetration of abuse.

It is understood that offender institutional files may underestimate the incidence and prevalence of offenders' involvement in family violence. In another study2 (Dutton and Hart, 1992), which is based on self-reports made during interviews with male offenders and their female partners, family violence is reported in 58% of the cases. In contrast, the CSC national file review found only 29% of institutional files of offenders with partners which showed indication of family violence.3


  • In 1992/93, a study4, conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada (in 8 federal institutions in British Columbia), found that 69% of the group of inmates tested had some degree of hearing loss. This is more than 9 times the rate (7%) of hearing loss in the general Canadian population. Similar studies were conducted in the United States which support the findings of greater hearing loss among inmate populations than the national average.

  • There are several medical and neurological hazards of low birth weight which can put childre n at risk of improper development and physical and mental health. Low socioeconomic status, along with having a mother who is unmarried, a teenager, poorly educated, malnourished, receiving poor prenatal care and a heavy smoker all increase the risk of low birth weight. Social conditions and smoking are thought to be the prinicpal factors implicated in low birth weight.5

  • Children affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome can experience neurological damage, which is expressed as hyperactivity, behavioural problems, learning problems, learning disabilities, and a general inability to function normally in a social milieu.6

Mental Health

  • Recent studies of federal inmates have shown that the prevalence of major mental disorders (i.e. schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder) within these populations considerably exceeds that in the general Canadian population.7

  • The prevalence of mental disorder in federal offender population was examined in a 1989 survey conducted by The Correctional Service of Canada:8

    • Psychotic disorders - 10.4%
    • Psychosexual disorders- 24.5%
    • Depressive disorders - 29.8%
    • Anxiety disorders - 55.0%

  • Only 48% of inmates with a major mental disorder had reported their symptoms to a physician or a mental health professional. 9

Criminal History

  • It is widely accepted that the majority of crimes are committed by a minority of male persistent offenders. Approximately 75% to 80% of incarcerated adults were persistent offenders in their youth.10

  • There is a close relationship between juvenile and adult crime. Studies have shown that there is a developmental sequence between troublesome behaviour at age eight and criminal behaviour at age 21-24.11

  • In 1990-1991, in 19% of youth court cases, the accused already had five or more previous convictions.12

  • An English longitudinal study that followed boys up to at least the age of 25, found a close association between juvenile and adult participation in crime. Of those convicted as juveniles, over 70% were convicted as adults whereas only about 16% of those not convicted as juveniles were convicted as adults.13

  • It was found that the younger the age of the criminal career's onset and the more serious and extensive the offender's juvenile crime record, the greater the likelihood that the offender remained criminally active as an adult.14

  • A cohort study consisting of 1,222 members in the U.S. found that one-time juvenile offenders were less frequently arrested as adults (36.1%), while 77.5% of chronic juvenile offenders made the transition to the adult system.15


  • Most federal inmates are undereducated, although the I.Q. distribution among the inmate population is not significantly different from that of the general population.16

  • A 1993 study highlights the relationship between school experience during early and late adolescence and criminality. School performance has been found to be the best and most stable predictor of adult offending. Poor school performance and a weak bond to school will increase the probability of misbehaviour in school that, in turn, provokes disciplinary reactions. This escalates through elementary and secondary school, leading to a higher level of adolescent delinquency and, eventually, to adult offending.17

  • Poor school performance is common among federal offenders. Upon admission to federal custody, approximately 65% of offenders test at lower than a Grade 8 completion level and 82% test lower than Grade 10. 18

Substance Abuse

  • Although the exact nature of the relationship between alcohol and drug use and criminal behaviour is not known, it has long been recognized that a link exists.19

  • Current data indicate that 55% of federal offenders reported that they were under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both on the day they committed the offence(s) for which they are now incarcerated.20

  • Approximately 50% of the federal offender population suffers from some type of substance abuse problem.21

  • A CSC study,22 of approximately 9,000 offenders, reviewed early substance abuse and its impact on adult offenders' alcohol and drug problems. The study found that:

    • the average age that offenders first tried alcohol was 14;
    • of those that tried alcohol, 29% was preteen (12 or younger);
    • the average age that offenders first tried either prescription or nonprescription drugs for nonmedicinal purposes was 16; and
    • approximately 58% of the overall sample reported that they had been involved in illegal activities before the age of 18. Of this subsample, almost 90% had been convicted of a crime as a young offender. Offenders who first tried alcohol in their preteens became involved in illegal activities at a significantly younger average age (15.8 years) than those who first tried alcohol as teenagers (18.8 years).


Offender profiling research has also been conducted on the following categories of offenders.

Aboriginal Offenders

  • A socio-demographic study of Aboriginal inmates versus non-Aboriginal inmates23 found that in many cases, Aboriginal inmates are even more disadvantaged in some respects than non- Aboriginal inmates:

    • Alcohol abuse was identified as a problem among 76% of the Aboriginal inmates in comparison to 64.6% of non-Aboriginal inmates.
    • Under 20% of the Aboriginal offenders had a grade 10 education or more, compared to more than 30% of other offenders.
    • Employment rates also varied, with less than 17% of Aboriginal offenders employed at the time of their offence, in comparison to nearly 30% of non-Aboriginal offenders.

  • Although Aboriginal people comprise only 2.5 % of Canada's population, approximately 9% of federally incarcerated males are Aboriginal.24

  • First Nations people are 6 times more likely to go to prison than is the majority of the non- Aboriginal Canadian population.25

  • Although First Nations women make up only 3% of Canada's population, they represent approximately 17% of federally-sentenced women.26

  • The rates of crime on aboriginal reserves and in aboriginal communities, particularly in the northern regions of Canada, are higher than the rates for the general population.27

  • The crime rate among Canada's registered Aboriginal people is nearly two times the national crime rate.28

  • The violent crime rate for Aboriginal bands is 3 1/2 times the national rate.29

  • A review of CSC Prairie region Aboriginal inmates' files found that, as of 1984, although only 20.4% had been born in communities of over 10,000 people, at the time of their admission to a federal institution, 67% of Aboriginal offenders had been residing in urban communities (over 10,000 people)30

  • Only 22.5% of Aboriginal offenders had any vocational training and about two-thirds had no previous skilled employment.31

  • The Canadian Council on Social Development finds indications of a high incidence of family violence, sexual assault, and incest in many native communities.32

  • Among the findings of a study conducted by the Ontario Native Women's Association33 were the following:

    • 85% of the women surveyed indicated that family violence occurred in their community
    • 80% of the women had personally experienced family violence
    • Alcoholism was identified by nearly 80% of the women as the main cause of family violence

Young Offenders

  • Each year, almost 1 in 10 youths come into contact with the police for a violation of the Criminal Code or other federal statutes.34

  • The charge rate for youths has been much higher and has increased faster than the charge rate for adults. In 1992, the youth charge rate was 63 per 100,000 youths, 2.5 times the adult rate of 25. (While increases in the youth charge rate may reflect an increase in youth crime, it may also reflect an intensification of the charging practices of police departments.)35

  • All studies agree on the existence of two categories of crime. One which is more episodic and occasional and generally harmless, is associated with adolescence: some 80% of adolescents engage in it at one time or another. The second is more permanent and results in a criminal way of life that continues into advanced childhood.36

  • A Montreal study has concluded that 6% of people born in any given year will account for 20% of delinquents and will commit 50% of offences.37

  • A longitudinal study of 10,000 boys born in Philadelphia in 1945 found that less than 7% of the sample were responsible for nearly 70% of all crimes attributed to the 10,000.38

  • High risk family factors commonly discussed in delinquency literature39 are:

    • Neglect (low levels of parental involvement and supervision of child)
    • Conflict (resulting from inadequate and/or inconsistent discipline style; parent-child rejection)
    • Parental characteristics (alcoholism, criminality, violence, lack of maturity)
    • Disruption (unhealthy marital relations, parental absence, parental physical and emotional health)

  • Criminality in the family, whether it be parents or siblings, is a powerful predictor of children's delinquency, more powerful than the child's early delinquency, more powerful than social class, and equally potent for boys and girls. The probability of a boy becoming delinquent increases more than 2+ times if he has an older member of the family convicted of a criminal offence.40

  • Increased friendship with delinquent peers is associated with more frequent delinquency and is explained by the fact that this interaction gives the offender "permission" to offend.41

  • Among the strongest predictors of delinquency in boys are aggression, drug use and stealing.42

  • A recent 10 year study by researchers at McGill University and Universit_ de Laval reveals three key factors that identify which five-year old boys are most at risk of turning into violent delinquents by the time they are teenagers. Little boys who are overactive, rarely anxious or worried and who seldom move to help or comfort another person are most likely to later behave in violent, antisocial ways.43

  • A summary of available studies concluded that 70% to 90% of violent offenders had been highly aggressive when young.44

  • One study shows that, by second grade, 45% of delinquents were behind in reading and 36% in writing.45

  • In an investigation of 489 runaway youths in Edmonton, it was found that 71% of runaways reported being encouraged by others to participate in crime while on the street; moreover, 49% admitted to using unspecified illegal means to satisfy their needs.46

  • Even though homeless youths constitute a relatively small proportion of all adolescents, they are involved in a substantial and disproportionate share of crime.47

  • Compared with youths at home, homeless youths are more likely to have lived in a family lacking one or both biological parents, and they have experienced lower amounts of parental relational and instrumental control and greater amounts of coercive control and sexual abuse.48

  • Homeless youths also have a substantially greater likelihood of being the victims of physica l and sexual abuse and parental neglect.49

  • Poverty and related disadvantages lead to many problems for children that are linked with later involvement in crime. The lack of basic necessities for families living in poverty can add to parents' stress and focus attention away from quality time spent with children. A Quebec study50 involving 400 school children found the following:

    • The deeper the level of poverty, the higher the incidence of violence among children.
    • 14% of the poorest boys were violent, compared to 5% of boys who lived in the wealthiest areas.
    • 5% of very poor girls and 1% of the most well-to-do girls, committed acts of violence.

Women Offenders

  • According to official statistics, only a small minority of Canadian women engage in crime. For example, in 1992, women accounted for only 16.4% of all criminal charges laid against adults.51

  • Official statistics show that women engage primarily in "street crime" (offences against the person, property and morality) as opposed to white-collar, corporate, organized or political crime.52

  • Women are concentrated in certain categories of less serious offences. In 1992, about 55% of adult women accused faced charges for petty theft, fraud and provincial statute violations.53

  • The poverty of many accused women is directly linked to their lack of formal education and job skills. Unable to support themselves, they often live alone in extremely poor conditions, relying on government welfare payments and/or support from friends, family and charitable organizations.54

  • The Law Foundation of Nova Scotia financed a research study on crimes committed by women in Nova Scotia that showed that most offences are crimes of poverty. The study also found that the number of charges for theft under $1,000 generally increased in August and peaked in December - "times when mothers could be under unusual pressure to supply school clothes and Christmas presents".55

  • Women's poverty was also emphasized in that as many as 49% of all women used legal aid lawyers, which necessitated their income as being below the province's poverty line.56

  • 2/3 of women imprisoned at the federal Prison for Women have children. Most of these women were the primary, usually sole caregivers for their children prior to their incarceration. Consequently, many of these children end up in state care as a result of the imprisonment of their mothers.57

  • 75% of women imprisoned at the federal Prison for Women have basic education (junior high level) or below and 40% have been classified as functionally illiterate.58

  • 43% of federally sentenced women have substance abuse or addictions problems and 69% have indicated that drugs and/or alcohol played a major part in their offence and/or their offending history.59

  • 82% of federally sentenced women and 72% of provincially-sentenced women have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse.60

  • Self-injury and slashing is also common among federally sentenced women. 59% of women at the Prison for Women have disclosed self-injurious behaviour.61

  • Eating disorders, as well as mental health problems, such as depression, sleep disorders and high anxiety levels are prevalent in federally sentenced women.62

Sex Offenders

An examination of 785 sex offender case histories in federal corrections63, conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada, yielded the following results:

Juvenile Offence History

  • Over 40% have a history of arrests as juveniles

Education/Employment History

  • 4 out of 5 sex offenders had less than Grade 12 and 1/2 had less than grade 10.
  • more than 50% were found to be unstable in their employment pattern
  • 65% were unskilled labourers
  • 2 out of 3 sex offenders had relied on social assistance

Family History

  • The majority of sex offenders (60%) had been separated from their biological parents before age 16.
  • Of those separated from their biological parents, 1/3 had been placed in child welfare agencies and training schools
  • More than 1/3 of the sex offenders reviewed had been abused (physical abuse or emotional neglect) by their parent(s) and/or primary caregiver(s) before the age of 16 years.
  • More than 1/2 of the sex offenders' parent/primary caregiver(s) were reported to have had alcohol/drug problems, 8% had psychiatric problems and 6% had criminal histories.

Sexual Abuse

  • 1/3 of sexual offenders reviewed had been sexually abused before the age of 16.
  • Among those abused, more than 3/4 had been abused by males, 1/4 had been abused by authority figures and 1/3 had experienced physical aggression by a sexual abuser.

Mental Health

  • 1/3 of sex offenders reviewed had suffered severe emotional problems prior to the current offence.

Substance Abuse

  • 3/4 of sex offenders reviewed had an adult history of alcohol abuse
  • Approximately 2/3 of sex offenders reviewed had an adult history of drug abuse64

Robbery Offenders

A profile of robbery offenders in Canada, compiled by the Correctional Service of Canada65, revealed that:

  • Robbery is almost exclusively an offence of the young male.

  • In Canada, approximately 2/3 of persons accused of robbery are younger than twenty-five and virtually no accused is older than 50.

  • Compared with the general criminal population, there is no excessive prior criminal violence in the backgrounds of robbery offenders.

  • In 1987, a University of Montreal task force on armed robbery developed a typology of armed robbery by breaking down a sample of robbery offenders. The task force found that most armed robbers interviewed by the task force:

    • were younger than 30
    • had only a secondary school education
    • had spent less than one year on any job
    • had no children
    • tended to change residences frequently
    • were 50/50 married and single
    • The age of onset of criminality for chronic armed robbery offenders was, on average, 12
    • Offenders who began at a very early age (around 10) tended to gradually escalate from simple thefts to burglary and then, in late adolescence or adulthood, moved on to robberies
    • During adolescence, about 1/2 of the offenders drank alcohol regularly and used drugs (particularly marijuana and hashish).

  • In 1988, the Correctional Service of Canada commissioned a national survey66 to assess the prevalence, nature and severity of mental health problems among the male federal offender population in federal custody.

    • Contrasting the lifetime prevalence rates of mental disorders across major offence groups (homicide, manslaughter, robbery, sex, drugs), the likelihood of having met the criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder was greatest among robbery offenders (almost 9 out of 10).
    • The survey also found that robbery offenders, as a group, were characterized by the relatively high lifetime prevalence of substance (more than 2/3) and alcohol (3/4) disorders among them.

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All contents copyright ©1995 National Crime Prevention Council
Created September 30, 1995.
URL: http://www.web.apc.org/~ncpc


  1. Caroline Cyr, "Modèle conceptuel: Programmation de la violence familiale dans un cadre correctionnel", mai 1994, Service correctionnel du Canada.
  2. Donald G. Dutton et Stephen D. Hart, "Risk Markers for Family Violence in a Federally Incarcerated Population", International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, vol. 15, p. 101-1112.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Marilyn Dahl, "Under-identification of hearing loss in the Canadian federal inmate population", Forum on Corrections research, mai 1994, volume 6, numéro 2.
  5. Canadian Paediatric Society, "The Health Needs of Disadvantaged Children and Youth", The Ninth Canadian Ross Conference in Paediatrics, novembre 1992.
  6. Comité permanent de la santé et le bien-être social, Affaires sociales, Personnes âgées et condition féminine, "Syndrome d'alcoolisme foetal. Une tragédie qui peut être évitée" (Ottawa : Approvisionnements et Services, juin 1992).
  7. Sheilagh Hodgins et Gilles Coté, "The Criminality of Mentally Disordered Offenders", Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 20, no 2, juin 1993, 115-129.
  8. Service correctionnel du Canada,"Rapport du groupe de travail sur la santé mentale", septembre 1991.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Dr Bob Horner, "Prévention du crime au Canada : Vers une stratégie nationale", douzième rapport du Comité permanent de la justice et du Solliciteur général, février 1993.
  11. Irvin Waller et Dick Weiler, "Prévention du crime par le développement social: un aperçu avec les sources", Ottawa : Conseil canadien du développement social, 1985.
  12. Département de Justice, "Toward Safer Communities: Violent and Repeat Offending by Young People", 1993
  13. Thomas Gabor, The Prediction of Criminal Behaviour: Statistical Approaches, Toronto : University of Toronto Press, 1986.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ministère de la Justice des États-Unis, "The Young Criminal Years of the Violent Few", National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, juin 1985.
  16. J. W. Cosman, "Penitentiary Education in Canada", dans Lucien Morin (éd.) On Prison Education, 1981, Approvisionnements et Services Canada.
  17. Marc LeBlanc, Evelyne Vallières et Pierre MacDuff, "The prediction of males' adolescent and adult offending from school experience", Canadian Journal of Criminology, octobre 1993, 459 à 478.
  18. Service correctionnel du Canada, "Programmes éducatifs correctionnels", septembre 1992.
  19. Service correctionnel du Canada, "Rapport du groupe de travail sur la réduction de la toxicomanie", rapport final, 1991.
  20. Susan A. Vanderberg, John R. Weekes et William a. Millson, "Early substance use and its impact on adult offender alcohol and drugs problems", Forum on Corrections Research, janvier 1995, volume 7, numéro 1.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Susan A. Vanderberg, John R. Weekes et William a. Millson, "Early substance use and its impact on adult offender alcohol and drugs problems", Forum on Corrections Research, janvier 1995, volume 7, numéro 1.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Solliciteur général Canada, "Rapport final ; Groupe de travail sur les autochtones dans les établissements correctionnels fédéraux", septembre 1988.
  25. Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, "Fact Sheet: Alternatives to Incarceration", mai 1995.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Curt T. Griffiths et J. Colin Yerbury, "Understanding Aboriginal Crime and Criminality: A Case Study" dans "Canadian Criminology Harcourt Brace & Company" de Margaret A. Jackson et Curt T. Griffiths, 1995.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Solliciteur général Canada, "Rapport final; Groupe de travail sur les autochtones dans les établissements correctionnels fédéraux", septembre 1988.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Native Crime Victims Research (Ottawa: Conseil canadien sur le développement social, document de travail inédit, 1987), p. 7.
  33. Curt T. Griffiths et J. Colin Yerbury, "Understanding Aboriginal Crime and Criminality: A Case Study" dans "Canadian Criminology Harcourt Brace & Company" de Margaret A. Jackson et Curt T. Griffiths.
  34. Kwing Hung et Stan Lipinsk