The Alaska Senate today (Wednesday) unanimously passed a bill giving judges the ability to consider Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders as a mitigating factor in sentencing for non-violent crimes.
FASD is the term used for the range of conditions experienced by children whose mothers drank alcohol while pregnant. Some of the conditions are physical. But Senate Bill 151 sponsor, Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer, says the one common feature all people with FASD share is some form of cognitive brain damage.
“More jail time for a non-violent offender does not help these particular folks,” Meyer said. “But extended periods of parole, intensive care management, assisted living, there’s a whole host of other mental health programs that will work better for folks who suffer from this disability.”
Meyer’s bill would require defendants to get a clinical diagnosis before FASD can be considered as a mitigating factor.
Eagle River Republican Fred Dyson noted that in twenty years, the state has gone from identifying FASD as a problem, to developing programs designed to treat and eradicate it.
“And now what we’re doing here is completing the kind of last step of dealing with these folks,” Dyson said. “And that is, when they encounter the criminal justice system, for it to be identified that there is an issue going on here, that the person who suffers from it didn’t cause. And it’s a lifelong disability. And it gives a chance to deal with that in these circumstances.”
Senate Bill 151 now heads to the House of Representatives, where companion legislation has already moved through the Health and Social Services Committee.
At a two-day “Crime Summit” in January, lawmakers heard from experts about the need for more flexibility in sentencing for all offenders – not just people with FASD. Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Carpeneti echoed that call in his annual address to a joint session of the House and Senate.