Nine out of ten people in Western Australian youth detention are severely impaired in at least one area of brain function such as memory, language, attention, and executive function (planning and understanding consequences). Such deficits would strongly impact on their ability to conform with legal instructions, and with other aspects of the justice system such as being interviewed in court.
Our new research, conducted in WA’s only detention centre and published today in the journal BMJ Open, also found one in three of the young people assessed had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). This is a lifelong and severe disorder of brain development that occurs as a result of exposure to alcohol in the womb. This is the highest known rate of FASD among any population involved in the justice system worldwide.
While we know damage to the brain occurs from prenatal exposure to alcohol with FASD, the causes of other impairments responsible for the high rate of functional deficits we found are complex. They can include accidents, infection and nutritional problems.
Many of the young people had a history of trauma, early school disengagement and early substance misuse.
It is likely the extensive amount of impairment, along with poor mental and physical health, histories of trauma, and the lack of adequate processes in place to support them, is contributing significantly to the high rates of youth crime and the increase in serious incidents in Australian detention centres.
– Hayley Passmore, Carol Bower and Raewyn Mutch
Photo source – Flickr.com