09/20/2013 07:27 EDT | Updated 11/20/2013 05:12 EST

Panel says Criminal Code should allow conditional sentences for people with FASD

EDMONTON - A panel on legal issues facing people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is recommending conditional sentences would be better for those convicted of offences.

Ian Binnie, a former Supreme Court justice, chaired a panel which heard evidence from experts over three days in Edmonton.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy; conditions can include a range of physical, behaviour and learning problems.

On Friday, the jury came up with statement advocating that the federal government amend the Criminal Code to provide for conditional sentences for people with FASD.

Binnie said right now, judges have to sentence according to mandatory minimum sentences for various crimes brought in over the years by the Harper government.

But Binnie says people with FASD can’t adjust to the structure of jail, and then parole.

He says the panel agreed that conditional sentences, along with house arrest, is the best way to help people with FASD reintegrate back into society.

"It’s very difficult if you take an FASD sufferer out of the community, put them jail, deprive them of their support system of family connections, social workers, programs and put them out on the street and expect them to make a successful adjustment," Binnie said.

Right now, Binnie says people with FASD in the prison system are getting caught in a vicious cycle.

“There’s a sort of rotating door,” Binnie said. “They’re charged with breach of parole because they didn’t show up at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday for a meeting, they’re back in prison, so they go round and round and nobody wins.”

“And it’s a very expensive process to keep people locked up when there’s a perfectly good alternative system, cheaper for the taxpayer that gives these people an opportunity to get back on their feet in the community.”

The panel's statement will be distributed to governments across Canada, organizations that work in the criminal justice system, and health groups.