Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and youth justice: a prevalence study among young people sentenced to detention in Western Australia

Carol Bower, Rochelle Elizabeth Watkins, Raewyn Cheryll Mutch, Rhonda Pearl Marriott, Jacinta Freeman, Natalie Kippin, Bernadette Safe, Carmela Franca Pestell, Candy Cheung, Helen Shield, Lodewicka Tarratt, Alex Springall, Jasmine Taylor, Noni Walker, Emma Argiro, Susan Leitao, Sharynne Hamilton, Carmen Condon, Hayley Passmore, Roslyn Giglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Citations (Scopus)


Objectives To estimate the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) among young people in youth detention in Australia. Neurodevelopmental impairments due to FASD can predispose young people to engagement with the law. Canadian studies identified FASD in 11%–23% of young people in corrective services, but there are no data for Australia.
Design Multidisciplinary assessment of all young people aged 10–17 years 11 months and sentenced to detention in the only youth detention centre in Western Australia, from May 2015 to December 2016. FASD was diagnosed according to the Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD.
Participants 99 young people completed a full assessment (88% of those consented; 60% of the 166 approached to participate); 93% were male and 74% were Aboriginal.

Findings 88 young people (89%) had at least one domain of severe neurodevelopmental impairment, and 36 were diagnosed with FASD, a prevalence of 36% (95% CI 27% to 46%).
Conclusions This study, in a representative sample of young people in detention in Western Australia, has documented a high prevalence of FASD and severe neurodevelopmental impairment, the majority of which had not been previously identified. These findings highlight the vulnerability of young people, particularly Aboriginal youth, within the justice system and their significant need for improved diagnosis to identify their strengths and difficulties, and to guide and improve their rehabilitation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere019605
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018


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