People who suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder should not go to jail for crimes they commit, according to the head of the Canadian Bar Association.

Association president Rod Snow said people living with FASD represent about one per cent of Canada's overall population, but make up as much as a quarter of the prison population.

"They're way over-represented in the criminal justice system, there's a high level of repeat offenders," he said.

In the summer, the association passed a resolution calling for changes to the criminal sentencing laws for those disabled by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

"The science says this is a permanent organic brain injury, a disability at birth. Through no fault of the individual, they have difficulty with impulse control, they don't learn from their actions," Snow said.

Now he is calling on federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, B.C. Attorney General Mike de Jong and the rest of Canada's justice ministers, who are meeting in Vancouver this week, to follow the bar association's lead and develop alternatives to prison time for those with FASD who are convicted of a crime.

"Sentencing options available to courts are often ineffective in changing the behaviour of those with FASD and those with FASD are frequently repeat offenders," the association's resolutions states.

It urges "all levels of government to allocate additional resources for alternatives to the current practice of criminalizing individuals with FASD."

But beyond recommending the ministers put more emphasis on creating alternatives to incarceration, the Canadian Bar Association has no obvious solutions for dealing with FASD offenders, said Snow.          

"While we're convinced what we're doing right now is not working …we're not sure what the right solution is," he said.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is caused by mothers drinking excessive amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. Doctors use a wide range of physical criteria, such as head and body size, and functional and psychological evaluations to diagnose it in individuals.