Undiagnosed Adult ADHD a High Cost for Society

Millions Wasted Funding Legal Proceedings and Incarceration That Could Be Avoided

Denver, December 19,  2014: Between 25 and 40 percent of prison inmates have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and most are undiagnosed and untreated. This is an alarming overrepresentation considering that it’s estimated that only 4 to 8 percent of the general population has ADHD. What is most concerning is that often criminal activity and incarceration could have been prevented if ADHD symptoms were properly identified and treated.

Incarceration and recidivism can be prevented.

Society is paying a high price for the failure to identify and treat ADHD within the justice system. Millions of tax dollars are funding legal proceedings and the incarceration of individuals for crimes that could have been avoided. Furthermore, individuals with ADHD are more likely to repeat offenses and break parole than non-ADHDers. This creates a vicious cycle that wastes more tax dollars and ultimately, ruins lives.

The proper identification and treatment for ADHD can help prevent at-risk youth from engaging in criminal behaviors and reduce recidivism in adolescents and adults.

ADHD is not just for children anymore.

ADHD is commonly associated with hyperactive children but it is so much more than that. Once thought to be a childhood disorder, we now know that inattentiveness, impulsivity, and other ADHD symptoms often persist into adulthood. Furthermore, ADHD symptoms are the result of impaired executive function, which means individuals with ADHD struggle with

planning,  organization,  time  management  and  sustaining  focus.  The  impaired  executive function also affects impulse control, frustration tolerance and emotional regulation.

The ADHD brain constantly searches for novelty, attracted to activities that are highly stimulating and often risky. What’s more, many individuals with untreated ADHD self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. All these behaviors increase the likelihood of legal issues and criminal charges.

ADHD symptoms also affect the individual’s ability to navigate the justice system from his or her first contact with law enforcement. Inattention impairs the ability to provide accurate details about events in question, which may falsely indicate guilt. Working memory deficits may affect his or her ability to understand Miranda rights, while impulsivity and the inability to plan ahead may lead the individual to blurt out incriminating information prior to consulting an attorney.

Minor mistakes can lead to major problems.

ADHD symptoms are detrimental throughout the legal process. Individuals with ADHD often experience difficulty gathering legal paperwork. Poor time management skills lead to missed appointments with legal counsel or failure to appear for court dates. Disorganization and a lack of planning lead to unpaid fines and failure to meet legal obligations. Additionally, inattentiveness often leaves the impression the individual is uncooperative or indifferent. These issues can cause a downward spiral leading to incarceration and longer sentences.

Once incarcerated, poor emotional regulation, low frustration tolerance and impulsivity lead to behavioral issues and tension between inmates. This increases the risk of physical altercations and violence among inmates, threatening the safety of both inmates and staff. Again, inattention and poor planning skills may be misinterpreted as defiance and indifference by prison staff, legal counsel, and parole boards, often resulting in harsh consequences for ADHD inmates and even loss of eligibility for parole.

ADHD impacts recidivism.

Once released, research indicates that individuals with ADHD are more likely than others to end up incarcerated again. When left untreated, ADHD symptoms such as disorganization and forgetfulness put these individuals at risk of unintentionally violating probation and parole. Poor time management skills can lead to missed appointments with the parole officer and curfew violations. Impaired executive function makes it difficult for those on probation or parole to plan for upcoming events and fulfill their legal obligations. This vicious cycle often leads to more jail time, ruined lives, and wasted tax dollars.

Ending the cycle.

The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) is working to end this vicious cycle. In

2007, ADDA formed the Correctional Health/Justice Committee to address issues related to ADHD in the justice system. Partnering with the Delaware Center for Justice (DCJ) in 2010, they designed a re-entry initiative to address the specific needs of inmates with ADHD. Addressing ADHD-related issues for these inmates has proven enormously successful, improving inmate behavior during incarceration, reducing recidivism and improving inmate success upon release. In fact, it has proven so successful they are trying to standardize this program so it can be implemented in other correctional facilities across the country.

In January 2014, ADDA’s Correctional Health/Justice Committee released a  white paper based on the research and the experiences of those involved in the ADHD Corrections Project in Delaware to raise awareness and initiate changes in the way correctional institutions identify and treat ADHD. It provides recommendations for the screening and treatment of ADHD within the corrections system. The paper was written by Janet Kramer, Judy Cox, Carol Kuprevish, and Robert Eme with the cooperation of the National Commission of Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).

To find out more about how ADHD affects individuals in the justice system or for more information on what ADDA’s Correctional Health/Justice Committee is doing to change  the  way  ADHD  is  identified  and  treated  in  the  correctional  setting, visit adhdjustice.add.org.

About ADDA

The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) is the world’s leading adult ADHD organization. Our mission is to provide information, resources and networking opportunities to help adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) lead better lives. We are an international non-profit organization founded 25 years ago by adult ADHD support group leaders to share information and resources and to provide support for one another. In the 25 years since its inception, ADDA has grown to become THE source for information and resources exclusively for and about the adult ADHD community.

Our goal is to generate hope, awareness, empowerment and connections worldwide in the field of adult ADHD. ADDA brings together scientific perspectives and the human experience. The information and resources provided to individuals and families affected by ADHD and the professionals who serve them focuses on diagnosis, treatments, strategies and techniques for helping adults with ADHD lead better lives.


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    1. Reply

      Just about a year ago now that I first heard about Adult ADHD and became impassioned by the idea of better diagnostic and treatment outcomes for my wife’s native Egypt’s countrymen. My first article on the subject will appear before the end of the year in the next edition of the Egyptian Journal of Psychiatry.

      My general take on the situation needs updated and perhaps I will pass a Cairo dawn doing just that: http://www.jeffmarck.net/ArabAdultADHD.html

      • Susie
      • December 9, 2018

      Men and boys are not the only ones who have adhd!

      As a child, I often spaced out, forgot homework, hat, mittens, etc, and was denounced by teachers, my parents, and other students as slow, stupid, and lazy.

      As an adult, I have had trouble remembering appointments, interviews, shift changes at work, even doing my taxes on time, I have been told by supervisors and co-workers that I am lazy, lacking direction, or that I “need help” all in a condescending, not empathetic or compassionate manner.

        • Kelly
        • May 17, 2020

        Hi Susie,
        I hope you have sought out screening and treatment for your symptoms as there is help available.
        Best wishes to you!

      • Nick
      • April 27, 2018

      I was just released from prison for violating a TRO in which I never comprehended a word from the serving officer. My mind was going a million miles a second and therefore did not understand contacting 3rd party or the seriousness of violating the TRO was completely misunderstood. I spent 36 hours incarcerated and truly know 99% of inmates would laugh at my time served. But to me, this was complete hell. I found this article just for my own curiosity on how inmates with ADHD truly survive such a place. Great article and wish I could help those locked away for weeks/months/years and decades. I don’t see it possible to keep your sanity having ADHD in prison. Absolutely impossible and feel for those suffering every single second locked up.

        • Michelle Noel
        • July 21, 2019

        I’m so sorry Nick. This is exactly why I want to work with sober addicts with adhd so we can get proper treatment. We are a highly stigmatized bunch and there doesn’t seem to be much professional help available that really understands our compounded issues. I just don’t know how a person like myself can manage grad school…
        Let’s never give up advocating for ourselves and our fellows!

      • Concerned Mom
      • August 16, 2017

      I am living this nightmare with my son who has been sentenced to years in prison for acting on his impulses, which he has never been able to control. I feel your pain Drew and will continue to say prayers for you and the many families affected by this very hard to treat/understand issue.

      • Natalie
      • June 20, 2016

      Very informative article. My son has ADD diagnosed aged 8, he is now 17. We live in the UK and I have had to involve myself heavily in every aspect of his life which has been exhausting and fascinating but more often very frustrating.

      He is a lovely lad but anyone dealing with this condition knows how difficult it makes their own and their loved ones lives. My son told me when he was 8 that he didn’t want to be on the planet anymore and my heart just broke for him. Understanding and knowledge of this medical condition is key. I read everything I could find on the subject and the real life stories of the experiences of the person suffering and their families is the same many times over. I told my son that it’s ‘Neurodiversity’ which it is – adhd people are the tough, survivor, Warriors, lookouts (they can sense or see the novelty in anything!) whose type have, historically, ensured the survival and success of the human race!

      My son is so strong willed it amazes me. But the world is much more complicated now. He just needs to find niche in life and I know he will be fine. I’m painfully aware how many are misunderstood and categorised as naughty/bad/stupid/badly parented anyone with ADHD is. I intend to make it my mission to help anyone I can in this situation. It’s a tragedy of biblical proportions that so many boys take the wrong path because they can’t see a way through and have no help and quite often, no diagnosis.

      Drew, you are very articulate and honest and I’m sure your story would help others. I would think about becoming some kind of counsellor for youngsters in this situation as you’ve been through so much – I’m sure your experience and desire to come out the other side and have a positive life would benefit them hugely. Anyone who lives with ADHD is inspirational. Good luck with the future, I hope it goes well for you.

        • stephanie
        • August 1, 2016

        well said! that is just what i needed to hear TODAY! thank you

      • Drew
      • June 10, 2016

      Years in prison, diagnosed as a child in junior high school. As an adult tried to get back on Ritalin, probably 1991, was told that the county mental health system doesn’t prescribe Ritalin for people over the age of 18. Found absolute bliss using street amphetamines which in turn ruined my life. I am a felon 3 times over, with no serious, no violent, no sexual crimes. Yet, I sit here in my bed tonight wondering why my life is so ruined. At 47 years old, I’ve remained clean from ANY drugs or alcohol by learning the ways of the AA NA program. But I still feel very incomplete without medication. Due to my admitted abuse of drugs I am having a very difficult time being prescribed what I need. It’s AMAZING how well I feel when I was using. But a simple trip tipto the convenience store world often turn out to cost me dearly legally. I’ve been arrested so many times, beaten by police, called horrible names like, piece of shit meth head, from police and the entire time I was self medicating. Isn’t that something.

        • Michelle Noel
        • July 21, 2019

        I’m so sorry. This is exactly why I want to work with sober addicts with adhd so we can get proper treatment. We are a highly stigmatized bunch and there doesn’t seem to be much professional help available that really understands our compounded issues. I just don’t know how a person like myself can manage grad school…
        Let’s never give up advocating for ourselves and.our fellows!

      • Ted F.
      • December 7, 2015

      This has really helped me out and made some sense for some of my symptoms. Thanks for the post!

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