Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Criminal Behavior


FetalAlcohol Syndrome and Criminal Behavior

FetalAlcohol Syndrome and Criminal Behavior

Theimportance of security cannot be understated as far as the growth anddevelopment of a particular region, country or even state isconcerned. Indeed, it is well acknowledged that the presence ofsecurity would safeguard all other rights of people. Unfortunately,the world has seen an increase in the rates of crime. This has anegative effect on the economies of countries, in which casepolicymakers in governments have tried to come up with ways in whichthey can nip the crime rates in the bud or reduce them. It goeswithout saying that a large proportion of these efforts have entailedinvesting more in weapons such as guns and surveillance equipment soas to achieve this goal. Unfortunately, while these strategies may beworking in some way, they are a bit reactionary and would not achievemuch as they do not look at the root cause of the criminal behaviors.Researchers have acknowledged that some individuals are predisposedto crime. Indeed, there are certain characteristics or traits amongyoung men that predispose them to criminal activities as shown by thedisproportionately large numbers of adults and youths with particularailments or conditions and who often come into conflict with thesystem. This is the case for individuals suffering from Fetal AlcoholSpectrum Disorder (FASD) or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder. Thispaper examines the relationship between FAS and criminal behavioramong youths and adults with the sole aim of determining whether itcould be a predisposing factor to criminal tendencies.

FetalAlcohol Syndrome disorder underlines a set of conditions that mayoccur in individuals that are prenatally exposed to alcohol. Indeed,research shows that the condition comes as the single most oftenoccurring type of non-genetic and preventable mental impairment withstudies indicating that even minute amounts of alcohol that are takenin the course of pregnancy may make the baby vulnerable to the mentalcondition. It has been acknowledged that the conditions usually leadto permanent learning, behavioral, mental and/or physicaldisabilities in an individuals.

However,scholars have sought to examine the relationship between thecondition and the susceptibility of an individual to getting involvedor in conflict with the criminal justice system. It has been notedthat the exposure to alcohol in varied amounts results in thedevelopment of certain cognitive deficits or defects that render anindividual incapable of properly evaluating circumstances orconnecting them with the consequences that may follow (Streissguth &ampO’Malley, 2000). Diagnosis of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome hasgenerally been founded on undocumented prenatal alcohol exposure inrelation to a myriad of traits such as retarded growth, dysfunctionof the central nervous system, craniofacial anomalies, such as thinupper lip, flat mid-face, small eye slits among others. It is worthnoting, however, that the cognitive deficits may occur independentlyof morphological anomalies (Streissguth et al, 2001). Of particularnote is the fact that research that has used magnetic resonance brainimaging techniques has shown that the FAS-related neurologicaldeficits have no correlation to facial abnormalities, in which case achild who does not have distinctive morphological features could beas severely impaired with regard to functional skills as another whois exhibiting the full range of conventional diagnostic criteria.This implies that the crucial elements of FAS, which are the organicbrain damage alongside the concomitant cognitive shortfalls, would beinvisible to ignorant observers, thereby allowing law enforcementagencies to fail to notice the predisposing pathology (Streissguth et al, 2001).

Nevertheless,the central nervous system dysfunctions that are associated with thefetal alcohol syndrome may be manifested in varied cognitive deficitssuch as problems with the social, language skills and memory.Variations between kids that have and those have not been exposed toalcohol prenatally have been seen in nonverbal and verbal memory, aswell as specific categories of nonverbal and verbal memory includingdeclarative, auditory and spatial memories. Research shows thatdeficits in verbal memory may persist across childhood up toadolescence (Streissguth &amp O’Malley, 2000). On the same note,social-behavioral problems become conspicuous and continue to beconsistent throughout adolescence, preschool or even school age.Further, children suffering from this condition may incorporateinferior receptive and expressive language skills and are often ratedby their instructors as incorporating poor spelling capabilities,writing expression, reading skills and grammar. Scholars have notedthat the language impairments would interfere with their progress inacademics as such kids would have problems comprehending theirteachers or even instructions from other adults. Essentially, theymay learn to make use of nonverbal cues so as to maintain the flow ofconversations but the magnitude of comprehension often comes as muchlower than it may seem (Lupton et al, 2004). Indeed, such childrendevelop an element of glibness that could hide their real competence,with subtleties pertaining to the use of language being well beyondthem. It is often the case that sarcasm and idioms cause confusionamong such individuals, in which case they are likely to be offendedby innocent jokes.

Inaddition, scholars have acknowledged that children suffering fromfetal alcohol syndrome have a compromised executive control. Indeed,such children or individuals do not have planning, organizing or evenlearning from mistakes of the past as their repertoire. Suchindividuals are extremely concrete or rigid in their thinking, aswell as impulsive and egocentric. Typically, such individuals areincapable of making connections or link cause and effects, take otherpeople’s perspectives of other issues or individuals or evenanticipate consequences. The cognitive processes that a large numberof people use in controlling their conduct and adapting to the socialenvironments are situated in the anterior frontal lobe of one’sbrain. Alcohol affects the fetal brain in such a way that the regionwould not sufficiently develop as to enable the FAS individual toproperly control his or her actions (Brown et al, 2010). In essence,FAS patients are impulsive, fearless and uninhibited. More often thannot, they exhibit poor judgment and can be easily distracted (Kellyet al, 2001). They exhibit difficulties in recognizing social cuesand are deficient of sensitivity, in which case they can haveinterpersonal problems. In addition, such patients would find itdifficult to link events to their resultant consequences, which maybe physical (such as being burnt by hot stoves) or even punitive suchas being incarcerated in jail for the commission of crimes. As aresult, it may be extremely difficult for such individuals to learnfrom the past mistake (Kelly et al, 2001). On the same note, thedeficiency of adequate cognizance of the fear and threat of theconsequences makes such an individual less capable of controlling orregulating his or her impulsive behavior. Further, such an individualwould be incapable of comprehending the effects that his or herbehavior has on other people (Brown et al, 2010). Essentially, theywould be less likely of demonstrating true remorse or even takingresponsibility for the mistakes that they have made.

Onthe same note, such individuals are considerably more vulnerable topeer pressure. As noted earlier, they give little or no regard to theconsequences of their actions or even the manner in which theirmistakes may affect other people (Moore &amp Green, 2004).Essentially, in instances where they determine that a particularcourse of action would please a person that they like even when it iswrong, they will go ahead and do it without evaluating theconsequences. Of particular note is the fact that the deficienciesthat they have with regard to making good judgments mean that theywould never delay gratification (Lupton et al, 2004).

Ofcourse, the ailment or condition has varied implications on thecriminal justice system and its capacity to eliminate or lower crimein the society. First, the condition could make individuals sufferingfrom it to make false confessions. Such individuals have been seen asvulnerable to confabulation particularly in an effort to please theirpeers or people that they tend to like (Moore &amp Green, 2004). Ofcourse, this means that the law enforcement agencies may neverunravel crimes or even ensure that the real culprits are taken awayfrom the society and punished for their misdeeds (Brown et al, 2010).In addition, such youths and adults are incompetent and unable tocomprehend the charges that are leveled against them or even takepart in their own defense. Similarly, they have diminishedcapabilities and may find it extremely difficult to differentiateright from wrong or even comprehend the consequences and form intent.One of the requirements for incarcerating and convicting individualsfor particular crimes is demonstrating that the individuals hadparticular motives or intent in committing the same, something thatmay be difficult in the case of the individuals suffering from thecondition. Of course, this also affects the manner in which the lawenforcement agencies should deal with them as it is evidently wrongto deal with them as one would deal with the normal criminals.Indeed, scholars have noted that such individuals would be moresuited in juvenile facilities or similar institutions than in adultprisons as a result of the vulnerabilities (Astley et al, 2000).Notably, their impulsive nature means that they are often likely notto relate well with other normal felons in the prisons, in which casethey may be at more risk in such prisons. Similarly, such facilitieswould not offer the appropriate or sufficient monitoring as would berequired for such individuals in an effort to rectify theirbehaviors, in which case specialized facilities would be much moresuitable for them in the long term (Bookstein et al, 2002). On thesame note, demonstrating the effects of the condition on thecognitive capabilities and behavioral tendencies of the individualswould inform sentencing as attorneys could succeed in presenting thecondition as a mitigating factor in crime. This would inspire theexploration of diversionary or alternative sentencing options thatcould be effective in the case of such individuals (Astley et al,2000). There could be situations where the court prefers to ordertreatment as a more appropriate intervention for such individuals.

Ofcourse, volumes of literature have been written examining the rolethat FAS plays in triggering deficiencies in behavior. Essentially,this research would primarily dwell on what has been writtenregarding the link, connection or relationship between fetal alcoholsyndrome and criminal behavior among youths and adults. This wouldprimarily be primary research incorporated in journals, as well assecondary research in textbooks.

Thispaper would be limited or restricted to examining the relationshipbetween FAS and criminal behavior with the view of determining howthe same should affect sentencing decisions. Perhaps the limitationof this research would be with regard to the fact that it would notexamine how the same has been applied in the past in the legalsystems or even how individuals suffering from the condition fare inthe common incarceration facilities.

Inconclusion, issues pertaining to crime have always been consideredfundamental to the economic wellbeing of any country. This isparticularly considering that crime has a bearing on the capacity ofindividuals to take part or participate in economic activities, inwhich case it safeguards the enjoyment of other rights. Essentially,policymakers and researchers have always been striving to come upwith appropriate measures that would effectively eliminate criminalactivity or behavior in the society. This necessitates adetermination of the aspects that cause criminal behavior, withresearchers acknowledging that there may be instances whereindividuals are predisposed to such tendencies not as a result of theenvironment within which they are brought up but rather their brainchemistry. Scholars have brought to the fore the connection betweenthe consumption of alcohol by parents particularly at the firsttrimesters few trimesters and the predisposition of the offspring tocrime. This is the basis for the fetal alcohol syndrome, an conditionthat has been shown to be the single most often occurring type ofnon-genetic and preventable mental impairment with studies indicatingthat even minute amounts of alcohol that are taken in the course ofpregnancy may make the baby vulnerable to the mental condition. Ithas been acknowledged that the consumption of alcohol at that timemakes the individuals’ mental condition different in certain ways.First, it decreases the individuals executive control, in which casethey would be incapable of thinking about the consequences of theiractions at a particular time. Further, they are considerablyincapable of resisting peer pressure there is an element of lack ofself-confidence and feelings of inadequacy that make thempersistently want to be in the good books of their friends even whentheir actions are not right. This is worsened by their inability toconnect the consequences of a particular action to the action itself.


AstleySJ, Bailey D, Talbot C, Clarren SK (2000). Fetal alcohol (FAS)primary prevention through FAS diagnosis: II. A comprehensive profileof 80 birth mothers of children with FAS.Alcohol Alcohol35:509–519.

BooksteinFL, Streissguth AP, Sampson PD, Connor PD, Barr HM (2002). Corpuscallosum shape and neuropsychological deficits in adult males withheavy fetal alcohol exposure. Neuroimage.15: 233–251.

Brown,N.N., Wartnik, A.P., Connor, P.D &amp Adler, R.S (2010). A ProposedModel Standard for Forensic Assessment of Fetal Alcohol SpectrumDisorders, 38 J. OF PSYCH. &amp L. 383, 384

Kelly,S.J., Day, N &amp Streissguth, A. P (2001) “Effects of PrenatalAlcohol Exposure on Social Behavior in Humans and Other Species”,Neurotoxicology&amp Teratology 22,143-149.

Lupton,C. Burd, L. &amp Harwood R. (2004). Cost of fetal alcohol spectrumdisorders. American Journalof Medical Genetics127C (671):42-50

Moore,T.E., &amp Green, M. (2004). Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD): A need for closer examination by the criminal justice system.CriminalReports 19,Part 1, 99-108.

StreissguthAP &amp O’Malley K (2000). Neuropsychiatric implications andlong-term consequences of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. SeminClin Neuropsychiatry.5:177–190.

StreissguthAP, Barr HM, Porter JK (2001). A study of patients with fetal alcoholspectrum disorders (FASD) who became parents. AlcoholClin Exp Res.25