Indefinite Detention Meets Colonial Dispossession: Indigenous Youths With Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in a White Settler Justice System

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Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a non-diagnostic umbrella term encompassing a spectrum of disorders caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. This article reports on a qualitative research project undertaken in three Indigenous communities in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia, intended to develop diversionary pathways for Indigenous young people with FASD at risk of enmeshment in the justice system. Rates of FASD in some parts of the West Kimberley are comparable to the highest identified internationally. A diagnosis of FASD amplifies the chances of Indigenous youth being caught up in the justice system in Western Australia, including indefinite detention in prison if found unfit to stand trial. A fresh diversionary paradigm is required. Employing a postcolonial perspective, we explore issues surrounding law and justice intervention – and non-intervention – in the lives of Indigenous children and their families. The FASD problem cannot be uncoupled from the history of colonial settlement and the multiple traumas resulting from dispossession, nor can solving the problem be isolated from the broader task of decolonizing relationships between Indigenous people and the settler mainstream. The decolonizing process involves expanding the role of Indigenous owned and place-based processes and services embedded in Indigenous knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-358
Number of pages26
JournalSocial and Legal Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


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