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June 23rd 2005

ADHD and Young Offenders - Caroline from is quoted with others!

Analysis: Policy - Youth justice - An illness that can lead to crime

Taken from Young People Now Magazine

By: Tristan Donovan 08/06/05

Campaigners argue that many young offenders have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but believe the youth justice system is not doing enough to identify and treat the condition. Tristan Donovan reports.

Crime could be halved in as little as 10 years if action is taken to address attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. So says , founder of the support group Adders.

Hensby, who has ADHD herself and has a son with the disorder, believes those in charge of the juvenile justice system are failing to address an important factor in criminal and antisocial behaviour. "If you put in the resources now towards identifying and treating ADHD, you could maybe halve crime in 10 to 15 years," she argues. "Yet at the moment the Government is hoping to cut crime by just five per cent and the resources aren't being provided. It really worries and hurts me."

Linked to offending

While some still question the very existence of ADHD, there is growing evidence that vast numbers of offenders, young and old, have ADHD.

Figures for the UK are still rare, but research by the National Gains Centre in the US suggest that as many as three out of four prisoners may have the condition. In contrast, the same study estimates that a maximum of one in 10 of the general population has ADHD.

Hensby says there are multiple reasons why ADHD can increase young people's chances of committing crime or behaving antisocially.

"If you look at the condition, the problems include a lack of concentration, short attention spans, being easily distracted, short-term memory, impulsiveness and being easily led," she says.

"It's very easy for these young people to get into crime because they can't always curb their impulses; they are more likely to lash out without thinking. It's not an excuse, but it can be an underlying factor."

According to Margaret Alsop, chairperson of the Dorset ADHD Support Group, large parts of the criminal justice system are failing to accept ADHD's existence, let alone take action to address the problem. "Recognition is virtually non-existent in the courts," says Alsop, who has trained youth offending teams about ADHD. "Solicitors, even the defendants, might not mention that the person has ADHD in court because they believe it will result in a harsher sentence. A lot of magistrates don't understand ADHD and only hear what they want to hear about it."

While some youth offending teams are doing positive work around ADHD, Alsop believes the youth justice system has been slow to act, something she blames on local teams rather than the Youth Justice Board.

"The board may be pushing the information out but it's down to the local teams to deliver the service," she says. But ADHD expert Dr Geoff Kewley, head of the Learning Assessment and Neurocare Centre, feels the Youth Justice Board needs to do more.

"My impression is it isn't doing enough," he says. "At the last meeting I had with the Youth Justice Board, it considered ADHD to be just about hyperactivity. It did not recognise that it is also about impulse control, which is very important in terms of offending and reoffending."

Dr Kewley also says the sociology background of many in the youth justice field can be a barrier for acceptance of ADHD as a major factor in offending.

"There is resistance because crime is seen as an environmental problem, whereas ADHD brings in biological differences as well that make it inherently likely that people may offend," he says.

"Most people in youth justice are trained in a psychosocial approach to crime, but we need to adopt a biological psychosocial approach. ADHD is a very treatable condition, as it's largely about brain chemistry." Better education

In the short term, Dr Kewley believes educating professionals in the youth justice system about ADHD and its bearing on offending is the next step. "There's quite a lot of misinformation about what ADHD is and isn't and about the side effects of the medication, which have been over exaggerated," he says.

"The Youth Justice Board should be informing youth justice workers about the reality of the condition." Alsop believes the Government should be working towards a national policy on ADHD that irons out local variation in support. "I'd like a policy to assess, diagnose and treat ADHD and for that service to be the same nationally," she says. "Children's trusts might improve things, but not all local authorities recognise ADHD."

Juliet Lyons, director of the Prison Reform Trust, also thinks treatment of ADHD, together with general health concerns, needs to become a more central part of work to prevent offending and reoffending. "We need to take a look at who is in our jails and whether a health or a criminal justice approach is more appropriate," she says.,


What is ADHD? Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that results in significant problems with concentration, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. These problems can have an effect on the sufferer's education and social life. Those with ADHD are also more prone to other problems including dyslexia, substance misuse, antisocial behaviour and manic depression

What causes it? People with ADHD appear to have a few structures in the brain that are smaller than average and problems with neurotransmitters, the chemicals used by the brain to send messages. It is believed to have a genetic basis Is it recognised? It is legally recognised as a disability in the UK and by the World Health Organisation's International Classification of Diseases

Can it be treated? A combination of medication and educational and behavioural support is used to treat the condition. The medications available in the UK - Ritalin and Dexedrine - aim to stabilise the individual's situation so as to allow the support side of the treatment to work

How strong is the link between ADHD and crime? Figures from the US suggest that between 18 and 76 per cent of prisoners have ADHD. UK figures on ADHD are harder to come by, but in 2001 the HM Inspectorate of Prisons said 50 per cent of young people on remand had a mental health problem, 10 times the level in the population as a whole.

Caroline Hensby for


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