Skip to main content

Attention, reward, and inhibition: symptomatic features of ADHD and issues for offenders in the criminal justice system

Abstract

Although the relationship between criminal activity and ADHD has been heavily studied, this paper reviews a largely neglected area of academic discourse: how symptoms of ADHD that often contribute to offending behavior may also potentially create further problems for offenders with ADHD after they come into contact with the criminal justice system and pilot their way through the legal process. The main symptoms of ADHD that are primarily connected to criminal offending are examined and contextualized with respect to diagnosed offenders’ experiences with the justice system. Symptoms of ADHD, specifically reward deficiency, behavioral inhibition, and attention deficits, may affect whether individuals will be successful in their experiences in court, with probation, and during incarceration. This is especially true for individuals whose ADHD diagnoses are unknown to the criminal justice system or have never been formally diagnosed. Actors in the criminal justice need to be aware of the symptomatic features and behavioral patterns of offenders with ADHD in order to recognize and identify these offenders, and correspondingly, to refer them to mental health services. Recognizing that at least some of an offender’s behavior may be related to symptoms of ADHD will help the criminal justice system better provide recommendations regarding sentencing, probation, and treatment provisions, as well as better ensure that offenders with ADHD have a more successful and just experience in their interactions with the criminal justice system.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Appelbaum KL (2009) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in prison: a treatment protocol. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law Online 37:45–49

    Google Scholar 

  • Barkley RA (1997a) Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, self-regulation, and time: toward a more comprehensive theory. J Dev Behav Pediatr 18:271–279. doi:10.1097/00004703-199708000-00009

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Barkley RA (1997b) Behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and executive functions: constructing a unifying theory of ADHD. Psychol Bull 121:65–94. doi:10.1037//0033-2909.121.1.65

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Barkley RA, Murphy KR (2006) Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a clinical workbook, vol 2. Guilford Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Barkley RA, Fischer M, Smallish L, Fletcher K (2004) Young adult follow-up of hyperactive children: antisocial activities and drug use. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 45:195–211. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2004.00214.x

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Biederman J, Faraone SV (2005) Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Lancet 366:237–248. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(05)66915-2

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Biederman J, Wilens T, Mick E, Milberger S, Spencer TJ, Faraone SV (1995) Psychoactive substance use disorders in adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): effects of ADHD and psychiatric comorbidity. Am J Psychiatry 152:1652–1658. doi:10.1176/ajp.152.11.1652

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Burns KA (2009) Commentary: the top ten reasons to limit prescription of controlled substances in prisons. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law Online 37:50–52

    Google Scholar 

  • Eme R (2009) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the family court. Fam Court Rev 47:650–664. doi:10.1111/j.1744-1617.2009.01279.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eyestone LL, Howell RJ (1994) An epidemiological study of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and major depression in a male prison population. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law Online 22:181–193

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Farrington DP, Loeber R, Van Kammen WB (1990) Long-term criminal outcomes of hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention deficit and conduct problems in childhood. In: Robins LN, Rutter M (eds) Straight and devious pathways from childhood to adulthood. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 62–81

    Google Scholar 

  • Froehlich TE, Lanphear BP, Epstein JN, Barbaresi WJ, Katusic SK, Kahn RS (2007) Prevalence, recognition, and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in a national sample of US children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 161:857–864. doi:10.1016/s0084-3954(08)79172-3

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gentile JP, Atiq R, Gillig PM (2006) Adult ADHD: diagnosis, differential diagnosis, and medication management. Psychiatry (Edgmont) 3:25-30

    Google Scholar 

  • Ginsberg Y, Lindefors N (2012) Methylphenidate treatment of adult male prison inmates with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial with open-label extension. Br J Psychiatry 200:68–73. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.092940

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Gudjonsson GH, Sigurdsson JF, Young S, Newton AK, Peersen M (2009) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): how do ADHD symptoms relate to personality among prisoners? Personal Individ Differ 47:64–68. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2009.01.048

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hurley PJ, Eme R (2008) ADHD and the criminal justice system: spinning out of control. LLC BookSurge, Charleston

    Google Scholar 

  • Kessler R, Adler L, Barkley R et al (2006) The prevalence and correlates of adult ADHD in the United States: results from the national comorbidity survey replication. Am J Psychiatry 163:716–723. doi:10.1016/s0084-3970(08)70709-6

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Luman M, Oosterlaan J, Sergeant JA (2005) The impact of reinforcement contingencies on AD/HD: a review and theoretical appraisal. Clin Psychol Rev 25:183–213. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2004.11.001

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pratt TC, Cullen FT, Blevins KR, Daigle L, Unnever JD (2002) The relationship of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to crime and delinquency: a meta-analysis. Int J Police Sci Manag 4:344–360. doi:10.1350/ijps.4.4.344.10873

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shekim WO, Asarnow RF, Hess E, Zaucha K, Wheeler N (1990) A clinical and demographic profile of a sample of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, residual state. Compr Psychiatry 31:416–425. doi:10.1016/0010-440x(90)90026-o

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wilens TE (2004) Impact of ADHD and its treatment on substance abuse in adults. J Clin Psychiatry 65:38–45

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Wolf TJ (1997) What United States pretrial services officers do. Fed Probat 61:19

    Google Scholar 

  • Young S (2007) Forensic aspects of ADHD. In: Fitzgerald M, Bellgrove M, Gill M (eds) Handbook of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Wiley, Hoboken, pp 91–110

    Google Scholar 

  • Young S (2009) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In: Young S, Kopelman M, Gudjonsson G (eds) Forensic neuropsychology in practice: a guide to assessment and legal processes. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 81–107

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Young S, Gudjonsson G, Ball S, Lam J (2003) Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in personality disordered offenders and the association with disruptive behavioural problems. J Forensic Psychiatry 14:491–505. doi:10.1080/14789940310001615461

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young S, Gudjonsson GH, Wells J et al (2009) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and critical incidents in a Scottish prison population. Personal Individ Differ 46:265–269. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.10.003

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Young SJ, Adamou M, Bolea B et al (2011) The identification and management of ADHD offenders within the criminal justice system: a consensus statement from the UK adult ADHD network and criminal justice agencies. BMC Psychiatry 11:32–45. doi:10.1186/1471-244x-11-32

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Colleen M. Berryessa.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Berryessa, C.M. Attention, reward, and inhibition: symptomatic features of ADHD and issues for offenders in the criminal justice system. ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord 9, 5–10 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-016-0203-8

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-016-0203-8

Keywords

  • ADHD
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Rewards criminal justice
  • Prison
  • Law
  • Courts