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ADD/ADHD and the Criminal Justice System

There has been a growing consensus based both academic research and criminal justice analysis that there exists a fairly strong association between measures of ADHD and criminal and delinquent behavior.

Attention Deficit – often combined with hyperactivity – Disorder (ADD and/or ADHD) as a neuropsychological condition has been found to influence criminal and delinquent behavior.

Individuals with ADHD are not all criminals. Most will have no greater contact with the criminal justice system than individuals without the disorder. ADHD and criminal behavior appears to occur when there is a history of antisocial behavior in adolescence. Those with a tendency toward impulsive behavior run a greater risk of coming into contact with the justice system than others.

Problems characterized as attention disorders and hyperactivity have long constituted the most chronic childhood behavioral disorders and the largest sources of referral to child mental health centers.[i]

The diagnosis of ADHD among children and adolescents is increasing consistently. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is found in as many as one in every 20 children. Boys are four 4 times more likely than girls to have the disorder according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999.

Symptoms of ADHD largely stem from impulsive, non-thinking behavior. ADHD reflects an exaggeration of normal behavior.  The individual over reacts to situations.  Strong emotional displays are common.  Dramatic responses to small matters may occur frequently.

An ADHD individuals cognitively understands what is expected of them but under stress or in a demanding situation their sense of immediate need overwhelms their limited capacity for self-control.  Their actions create consequences that are difficult to manage. These individuals are characterized as unpredictable and their actions may include violence.

ADHD individuals are easily bored.  It is difficult for them function in an environment where the tasks are repetitive and dull.   Their ability to focus on detail is diminished. There is a need for immediate gratification and embracing the concept of a long term goal with a long term reward is not meaningful.

The majority of adults with ADHD are undiagnosed and consequently untreated.  They suffer with the untreated consequences with symptoms which occur in varying types and severity. ADHD symptoms have the potential and often do impair interpersonal relations including marriage.  The symptoms destroy the emotional well-being of the individual, disrupt stable employment and even the work environment at large for other employees.

Criminal justice professionals deal with the consequence of ADD/ADHD daily and in large quantities in terms of investigation, prosecution, and incarceration.

P.H. Wender, “The Minimal Brain Dysfunction Syndrome,” Annual Review of Medicine, 26, 1975, 45-62; R.A. Barkley, Hyperactive Children: A Handbook for Diagnosis and Treatment (New York: Guilford Press, 1981).

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