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FASD and the Criminal Justice System: From Arrest to Community Supervision – Webinar

January 31 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term designated for a group of disorders that are caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. FASD may consist of a wide range of physical (e.g., abnormal facial structure), cognitive (e.g., executive control and short- and long-term memory), social (e.g., verbal and non-verbal communication skills), and adaptive (e.g., decision making and problem-solving ability) symptoms. Because these symptoms can vary in their presence and severity, along with their high rates of comorbidity with other psychiatric and developmental disorders, FASD often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. As a result, individuals with FASD typically do not receive the appropriate treatment and services. In the absence of adequate treatment, individuals with FASD are prone to involvement in the criminal justice system as victims, witnesses, and perpetrators of crime. Unfortunately, FASD also makes it difficult for these individuals to navigate the criminal justice system. For example, FASD may interfere with competency to make legal decisions (e.g., waive Miranda rights or the right to an attorney) or stand trial, increase the risk for false confessions and wrongful convictions, and make it difficult to comply with the requirements of confinement and community supervision. These problems emphasize the importance of increasing the awareness of FASD among criminal justice, forensic mental health, and legal professionals.

The overarching purpose of this advanced level training is to begin with a review of the definitional features of FASD and then explore the diverse consequences of FASD in criminal justice settings. Participants are expected to arrive at the training with a basic understanding of FASD, which will be built upon by six key training objectives. First, the training will provide a comprehensive review of the warning signs, behavioral indicators, and consequences associated with FASD. This will also include a discussion of the DSM-5’s recently proposed Neurobehavioral Disorder Associated with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (ND-PAE; APA, 2013). Second, attendees will explore the comorbidity of FASD with other developmental and psychiatric disorders, cognitive impairments, and victimization. In particular, the proneness to victimization observed in this group confers a risk for developing trauma-related issues such as PTSD. Third, attendees will acquire a basic working understanding of how FASD increases the likelihood of criminal justice involvement. During the course of this objective, the prevalence rates of FASD in criminal justice settings and society in general will be covered along with a discussion of FASD’s role in different criminal behaviors (e.g., firesetting and sexually inappropriate behaviors). Fourth, attendees will learn how a range of FASD symptoms (e.g., short- and long-term memory loss, confabulation, and suggestibility) make it difficult for individuals with this disorder to successfully navigate the criminal justice system. In fact, memory impairments along with suggestibility and confabulation can increase the risk of false confessions, inaccurate testimony, and wrongful convictions. Fifth, the training will identify techniques to improve the assessment and treatment of individuals with FASD in criminal justice settings. Accompanying these tips will be a review of common barriers and challenges during these processes. Sixth, this training will conclude by discussing existing FASD research and identify future directions for FASD research in criminal justice settings. Together, these six key training objectives present an opportunity for professionals from criminal justice and mental health backgrounds to develop a stronger understanding of FASD’s deleterious impact in the criminal justice system while identifying ways to help address these issues.