Without screening or supports, offenders with FASD face revolving door of justice
Russ Hilsher is an adult with FASD and has criminal record that goes back more than a decade. His story just like many other with FASD, he struggles to understand the rule of the law and is in constant contact with the police. Here is a piece by of CBC News
Russ Hilsher was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as a baby. Now 40, he has been in and out of jail for assaults, thefts and breaching court conditions over the last 15 years. He says the routine and structure of prison worked for his FASD but it also meant he was sharing a space with people who would take advantage of his disability. (Kelly Malone/CBC)
Russ Hilsher’s criminal record goes back more than a decade, to an assault charge in 2003. The 40-year-old has been in and out of jail for breaching conditions, other assaults and theft since.
On paper, Hilsher’s background tells a different story than the one the father of two talks about when he explains how he struggles to understand rules, laws and how to interact with police.
Originally from Ghost River, near the mouth of the Cheepay River in northeastern Ontario, Hilsher’s birth mother drank during her pregnancy. He was taken from her soon after and was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as a baby.
As a teenager he landed in a foster home in Winnipeg and struggled to adapt to city life. Hilsher often has a wide smile on his face, but his eyes take on a serious expression when he explains how he interprets the world differently. When Hilsher was younger, if he saw something on the street he would take it. He didn’t think it was theft.
If I could [serve my time] by myself in my own little space I would be alright.– Russ Hilsher
“Like you guys [who don’t have FASD] are knowing it’s not yours, but to someone who has FASD it’s just lying there, so it has to be mine. Why can’t it be mine, right?” Hilsher said.
Eventually that landed him behind bars. Hilsher said the routine and structure of prison worked for his FASD but it also meant he was sharing a space with people who were taking advantage of him. Hilsher said that he would just say “Yes” when people asked him to do things and he would end up getting in trouble, not really understanding that we he had done was not OK.
“It’s almost like if I could [serve my time] by myself in my own little space I would be alright,” he said.
In the prisons and jails it’s easy to mistake somebody’s behaviour as antisocial or oppositional when it’s really a result of having FASD, said Howard Sapers, the independent advisor on corrections reform to the Ontario provincial government and former Correctional Investigator of Canada. And in prison when people don’t follow orders or don’t seem to learn from mistakes, they face more discipline.
“This just creates a very, very negative cycle. And it just reinforces bad behaviour,” Sapers said.
The first thing to do in corrections is to recognize that FASD is a real and profound issue, Sapers said.