FASD project seeks to diagnose Saskatchewan offenders, support better outcomes

A clinical team at Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre is working to diagnose Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in incarcerated people.

The pilot project seeks to rehabilitate people with the disorder, connecting them with supports to keep them in the community and out of the criminal justice system.

FASD is linked to alcohol exposure in the womb, and can cause cognitive, behavioural and physical disabilities, according to the FASD Network of Saskatchewan.

People with FASD are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system due to neuropsychological deficits in judgement, Correctional Service Canada says.

Dr. Mansfield Mela, a forensic psychiatrist and lead clinician for the project at the Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC), said many inmates who have FASD haven’t been diagnosed — and that’s a problem.

“The behaviours of the individual are usually misinterpreted to mean a deliberate and intentional behaviour, which gets them in trouble,” Mansfield told Global News.

“Because that behaviour hasn’t been appropriately labelled, they are more likely to continue to suffer the consequences of their behaviour even though the right intervention has not happened.”

Once a diagnosis is made, the project team recommends supports catered to patient needs after they serve their sentence.

Those supports range from counselling to housing and employment — all major helpers on the road to rehabilitation.

“There’s more resources available to them once they have that confirmed diagnosis of FASD,” said Tarrah Wandler, acting executive director of health services at RPC.

“It opens up a lot more supports for the patients in the community and it eases their … successful transition to their communities.”

Thirty-five people have gone through the assessment process since the project started in March 2018, she said.

Mela said anecdotally, they’ve heard the community resources provided to those patients have helped them avoid reoffending.

“That, to us, is a sign that there is a lot of potential in this project going forward to be able to support people who hadn’t been diagnosed previously … to be law-abiding members of society,” Mansfield said, noting the majority of people with FASD are already law-abiding citizens.

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