Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in the Criminal Justice System
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This thesis evaluates the primary areas of vulnerability for individuals with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders who encounter the criminal justice system. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are a leading cause of developmental disability in the United States, but these disorders often go undiagnosed due to their subtle or non-existent physical indicators and limited screening and diagnostic services. This thesis examines the neurocognitive and behavioral features of FASD and how these features lead to susceptibility for criminal justice involvement. The majority of individuals with FASD have been found to have contact with the criminal justice system (CJS) during their lifetime, and this thesis explores the unaddressed issues that this population faces once in the CJS due to the characteristics of their disorders. This highly suggestible population is vulnerable to exploitation and misunderstanding throughout the criminal justice process, from unknowingly waiving their rights at arrest to giving false confessions during interrogation to being abused while incarcerated. This thesis identifies three key issues contributing to the mistreatment of individuals with FASD in the CJS: underdiagnosis of the disorders, limited knowledge about FASD among criminal justice professionals, and ineffective punitive sentencing measures. Potential solutions include the big picture need for large-scale screening for FASD among young children and the offender population, FASD specific trainings for people working in the criminal justice setting, and community-based rehabilitative sentencing options. The goal of this thesis is to draw attention to an under-recognized population and an area of criminal justice policy that requires reform.