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Anne Russell thought it was safe to drink alcohol while pregnant with her son, Seth, but her actions led to him being born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) — a condition she believes pushed him into the criminal justice system.

Key points:

  • Experts are calling for all children in Australia's criminal justice system to be assessed for FASD
  • It is believed up to 40 per cent of inmates in Australian prisons may have the disability, but most are undiagnosed
  • A federal inquiry into FASD support, prevention and diagnosis is due to release its findings next month

Ms Russell does not know what happened to her son in prison, but she says he has never been the same since.

Seth*, now 37, does not talk about the experience — in fact, he doesn't talk much at all. "He stays in his caravan 24/7," Ms Russell said. "He doesn't come out, he doesn't socialise. "That was basically the end of him being able to live a relatively normal life.

The fear that many more children have the condition but are undiagnosed has sparked calls for sweeping changes to Australia's criminal justice system.

Ms Russell said it was vital that children were assessed for FASD when they came into contact with youth justice and child protection systems.

"Early diagnosis, looking at target groups is so important," she said.

University of Queensland research fellow Natasha Reid said diagnosing patients with FASD could prevent them from reoffending.

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