Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms, type of offending and recidivism in a prison population: The role of substance dependence

Crim Behav Ment Health. 2017 Dec;27(5):443-456. doi: 10.1002/cbm.2009. Epub 2016 Jul 26.


Background: It is unclear whether adult offenders with a history of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to re-offend, and if so, in any specific offences.

Aim: This study aimed to examine correlates of childhood ADHD symptoms among prisoners.

Methods: A randomly selected sample of 1179 participants from the adult sentenced population of Puerto Rico (USA) reported their history of violent and non-violent offences, age of first arrest and re-offending. Participants completed retrospective measures of ADHD and a diagnostic interview for substance use disorders.

Results: Self-reported ADHD was associated with age of first arrest, a number of violent and non-violent offences and re-offending. The association with any non-violent offending was explained statistically by substance use disorders and other psychosocial covariates. ADHD was independently associated with being under 15 years of age at first arrest and with re-offending.

Conclusions: Although some associations between ADHD and offending may be accounted for by co-morbidity with substance use disorders, early onset of offending and repeated violent offending appear to be directly related to ADHD. Criminal justice policies should, therefore, incorporate ADHD screening accompanied by appropriate rehabilitation programmes when such neurodevelopmental disorder is identified. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / epidemiology*
  • Criminals / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Recidivism / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Young Adult