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Legislature Passes Bill Allowing Judges to Consider FASD as Factor During Sentencing

Senate Bill 151 includes FASD as a mitigating factor in sentencing

JUNEAU-The Alaska State Legislature has passed legislation that will now require judges to consider Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) as a mitigating factor in sentencing in certain circumstances.

Senate Majority Leader Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, worked with the Alaska FASD Partnership, the Department of Law and the Courts in crafting Senate Bill 151 in response to the large number of people affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in the state's criminal justice system.

"I want to caution people that this is not a get out of jail free card.  If the defendant is involved in a seriously violent crime this mitigating factor cannot be used," said Senator Meyer.  "This legislation is one small way we can help those who suffer from a disability and practice 'Smart Justice' by allowing judges some flexibility in sentencing people who are affected by FASD."

'FASD' is an umbrella term describing the range of effects that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FASD may cause lifelong problems including learning disabilities, hyperactivity, attention deficits, weak impulse control, poor social and decision making skills, lack of judgment, and a high susceptibility to peer pressure which all increase chances that a person will break the law.

FASD also presents challenges throughout the judicial process.  Individuals suffering from FASD often cannot understand their rights and may confess even if they are not guilty.  People with FASD also typically have memory problems, which can contribute to forgotten court dates or meetings with probation officers, judges, and attorneys.

Senate Bill 151 is an important component of the Senate's current push for 'Smart Justice', which is based on numerous studies showing money spent on rehabilitating offenders and extending probation is more cost effective than paying high costs associated with incarceration and recidivism, including public safety, courts, prisons, alcoholism, and drug abuse programs.

"Studies have repeatedly shown that repeat offenders with FASD and other impaired brain functions are more likely to stop committing crimes when they are given the same support as people with other mental illnesses, which can include therapeutic courts, housing and employment assistance, case management, counseling and rehabilitation," said Senator Meyer.  "The potential benefits to society, through decreased crime and costs, are tremendous."

Senate Bill 151 now heads to Governor Parnell for his signature.

For more information, contact Senator Meyer or Christine Marasigan at 907-465-4945.

 

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