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


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.

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Correspondence to Colleen M. Berryessa.

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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).

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