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An examination of the abilities, risks, and needs of adolescents and young adults with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the criminal justice system.

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) comprises the continuum of permanent deficits caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy, which may include brain injury, neurobehavioural impairment, growth restriction, and physical birth defects. Individuals with FASD experience numerous adverse outcomes, including high rates of involvement with the criminal justice system. This dissertation examined the psycholegal abilities, justice-system experiences, and risks associated with prospective offending in 50 youth with FASD. The reliability and predictive validity of three commonly used youth risk assessment tools were also examined. Results were contrasted with a second group of 50 justice-involved youth without prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). Participants included 100 justice-involved youth aged 12 to 23. Participants completed a battery of measures including Grisso’s Miranda Instruments, the Understanding Police Interrogation Questionnaire, the Fitness Interview Test-Revised, the Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence, and the Wide Range Achievement Test-4th Ed. Rating scales including the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth, the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory, and the Psychopathy Checklist—Youth Version, were also completed. Youth with FASD demonstrated substantially more impairment in psycholegal abilities relevant to police interrogation and adjudication than participants in the comparison group. Intellectual ability and reading comprehension emerged as robust independent predictors of psycholegal abilities, though the FASD diagnosis also served as an independent predictor of youths’ understanding and communication skills on the FIT-R. The two groups showed many similarities in legal experiences, including high rates of self-reported false confessions. Overall, the two groups demonstrated lengthy and serious offense histories. Youth with FASD showed earlier contact with the justice system and a higher volume of past offending, while comparison youth tended to be charged with fewer, but more serious offences. Youth with FASD recidivated earlier in the 3-month follow-up period and accrued more charges. They earned significantly higher continuous scores across risk assessment tools, and substantially more youth in the FASD group were rated as high or very high risk to reoffend. The risk assessment tools performed reasonably well in predicting general recidivism in youth with FASD. These findings are discussed in the context of current legal policy, clinical practice, and future intervention planning.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Roesch, Ronald
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etd7031_KMcLachlan.pdf 4.76 MB

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