ADHD in Jail

Over the years, there have been many studies which show that if one studies the incarcerated population, the rates of ADHD are upwards of 50%. This is a huge public health concern.

Despite having read this statistic a number of times from different studies, I haven’t heard of any actual treatment studies. I wondered why no one had proactively gone into the jails and started assessing and treating people for ADHD to improve their quality of life, functioning and improve their chances of meeting their goals after they are released from custody.

I’ve just read about a study in Sweden which is doing just that. You can read about it here. Although the article is looking at potential financial savings if they are able to get people out of jail and have their ADHD treated – I think this is a great step toward helping people who have ADD/ADHD and have had trouble with the law.

The only question I’m left with is: why aren’t more communities setting up screening and treatment for ADHD for those in the correctional system? Hopefully this will happen more in the near future.

Please share your thoughts and comments below.


Dr. Kenny


  1. When I read about children with ADHD having an increased risk of using drugs, flunking out of school, or landing in jail, I think about my two boys. When they were very small I had a friend that said the older son would be a lawyer and that the younger son would need a lawyer. The boys were two and four years old at the time but even then it was clear that my inattentive son would stay out of trouble and the baby would be another matter altogether. He was impulsive and fearless even as a two year old.

    It is the impulsiveness that gets our children with ADHD into a world of trouble and I believe that it is where the ‘rubber meets the road’ for most people dealing with ADHD. Most of our households can adapt to hyperactive and inattentive kids. We can run the hyperactive kids around the block and nag the inattentive kids until they focus. These symptoms can be extremely disruptive to a person’s potential but they do not disrupt the foundation of a household the way impulsivity does.

    People with inattentive ADHD are, by and large, not impulsive. When you have an impulsive child with ADHD, you understand why this sub-type gets all the research dollars. These are the kids that, as a society, we really worry about.

    I did not medicate my hyperactive son until I realized that this child had absolutely no physical control over his impulses. He was incapable of counting to 10 before he did something that he would later regret. Medication treats this symptom. His impulsivity has vanished. If we can give someone medication and the impulsivity is gone, it this not proof that there is some pathology in the brain that the medication is correcting??

    I recently was reading a thread on one of the ADHD forums regarding punishing a child because he destroyed something precious while he was off his medication. They boy was confused and distraught over what he had done. The post asked how the child should pay for this destruction. I was quite torn while reading this post because I truly believe that my hyperactive/impulsive son, un-medicated, will do things that he has no control over.

    Just a thought, let’s say that a child had Epilepsy and suffered a grand mal seizure where he hit a shelf, knocked down a precious vase and broke it. Would this child be responsible for replacing the vase??
    Many of these ADHD prisoners need treatment not punishment. We should be providing it!

  2. A very good question Dr Kenny!

    In Sweden, the heads of the criminalhealthcare systems have been in denial of ADHD and the effectiveness of the medicines. Since the “Nortälje projektet” has been such a great success, maybe the subconscious medical apartheid surfaces and dissolves…

  3. We are talking ADHD, with much emphasis on the H, and not plain ADD at all. ADHD is often co-morbid with other more serious mental illnesses which probably accounts for this high rate of jailbirds. They SHOULD receive assessment, treatment, and training for jobs they could handle when released! Much more mental health research is needed too! This is such a financial drain on our countries. And, from a second viewpoint, the world CANNOT continue to LOSE THESE BRIGHT MINDS!


    Why dont we start some sort of fund to put more alternative therapies such as neurofeed back and working memory training in the jails.

    Seriously – they are in jail for how long – i bet you these inmates have time to complete a full working memory session and a neurofeedback session as well.

    Getting them to do it – grab a few marketing and Advertisng people who understand how to influence peoples perception – i bet you we could get tons of those people with adhd in jails doing these treatments without needing them to follow up outside of jail.

  5. from what I have gathered from many inquiries with former inmates etc from ontario canada, (those with adhd that is) was that despite a diagnosis, they did not receive any adhd medication in jail/prison, as the medications are kind of seen as taboo and of course being controlled substances for the most part, they are not given out as they could possibly be traded/bartered etc to other inmates. (usually the method of preventing this from happening is the nurse crushing up the medication before giving it to them- something not good when it comes to sensitive adhd medications that are time released!). usually something like seroquel would be given instead to deal/help cope with the cycling/scattered thoughts symptoms.

  6. My younger brother suffers from ADHD, just as I do, although I wasn’t officially diagnosed until last year, and he hasn’t been diagnosed at all (I’m 40, he’s 32).

    He ended up in jail for a year due to drunk driving that ended in a fatal accident. He’d never gotten into trouble otherwise. He didn’t get into drugs, but was well on his way to becoming an alcoholic (if he wasn’t already there). He’s attended AA since the accident, and is out on full parole and trying to do something with his life now, but one thing I had recommended to him, once I was diagnosed, was to mention to his parole officer the possibility that he had ADHD. I’d read about alcohol abuse with ADHD sufferers, and it fit perfectly with both him and my father. I don’t think he mentioned it, but I have been poking at him to go for an official diagnosis and to get medication for it.

  7. my son got a diagnosis of hyperkinetic conduct disorder, at 13 he was great on ritolin. when he was 15 he started to refuse his medication sometimes and got his self in a lot of trouble. he went to prison for 3 years while he was in there they took him of the medication without my permission. They released him and he was suffering greatly with his adhd, before i could get him to a psychiatrist he had committed more crime and 23 days after he was released he was arrested the police took him out and he admitted a lot of crime (which i dont believe that he did most of them) he was sentenced to a further 3 half years. He has just been released again and within 7 days back in prison. i feel the prison service should not of stopped his meds because while taking it in his early days he was calm and committed no crime. he is now looking at a new sentence and a licence for life. i think this is so unfair because he is only 21 and has been handed out a lot of prison and no help, for his problems. i feel like his life is over to the prison service when all he needed was the correct medication. The authorities have failed him all his life but he is the one paying for it.

  8. My youngest Daughter who is now 16 is ADHD-Diagnosed.
    It has been hard going But we have not gone the Ritalin route.I have used a cognitive approach.
    She was diagnosed at about 9 years old.The biggest problem has been the Educational System in refusing to acknowledge the problems untill it was too late and then trying to catch up on their mistake.
    We still have our problems but I have always talked my Daughter through it-the good and the BAD.When the BAD happened she did not identify what she was doing but afterwards, when she was in a calmer more receptive mood I would explain how she had been.She has learn’t how to handle it-still there are times that can be difficult but she has had to earn to live with it and how to make it work to her benefit.One day I will not be there to help her so she has to be able to manage it herself.
    Drugs only supress it and often cause other problems.
    There is not a ‘Cure’ You do not grow out of it.It is there for life But with the right help-you can learn how to manage it.
    If we only had schools that would take these children on when first identified and used a cognitive approach,linked with a strong activity approach to use the energy these children would forge ahead with their education and pass the rest of the children with flying colours.

  9. I am 22 and suffer with adhd and i have alot of anger issues due to lack of support. I was arguing with my girlfriend in a local hospital and i poked her and went into her face and said stop shouting in my moms place of work its not fair on her. I then left with my baby to get her fed and ready for bed just as i done this the police knocked my door and arrested me for assult but my misses said i have adhd and i diddnt assult her i was just trying to deal with my babys needs. She bears no markings of assult and the police have stripped her down and noticed a bruise on her lower leg and said to her did he do that. she replied no i dont know were thats come from and then theve accused me of this bruise and now there putting me in court for acctual boddily harm and assult. She has very fair skin wen we went to devon last year she melted in the sun and needed skin steroids to heal her up. she wakes up in the mornin with new bruises on her legs not knowing were she got them She just bruises easly. wen they questiond me i didnt have anouther present and in my condision i needed someone there. I told them exactly wat happend 100 percent. ive just got out of the cells ive been there 24 hours wednesday-thursday then they let me home and re arrested me about that bruise on her leg. I have had a nervous breakdown because of them they have put it in my bail order im not allowed to see the only two people ive ever cared about. I am now on my own waiting for my court date i am that messed up i couldnt even remember my own postcode or pin for my card wich has now been blocked. I have spoken to my misses and she is worried sick about me i cant eat sleep and ive been crying for 4 days flat i am not violent and theve treated me like shit. i am living my own personal hell at the moment because of them. my adhd is currently being sorted after my ordeal as ive been tellin the doctors for years about it i finaly had to get in touch with my mom who knows i suffer with this but wen i was young adhd haddent been herd of so i wasnt diagnosed but now i have been. My mom told the doctor eveything about my child hood and the doctor knew then ive been tellin the truth this whole time. He never listend to me before cause i was always missing appointments but wen my mom looked it up thats one of the main bullet points. I asked to speak to the police doctor and he was absoultly horribe said i was a fake and he was giving me evil eyes and i could tell he diddnt want to speak to me cause of the way he was treating me. I have never struck anouther soul in my life and there treating my like a thug I NEED HELP!!! im so depressed and im in fear of them acctualy getting away with these bullshit alligations and making me loose my soon to be wife and baby. please if somone can shine a light on this for me cause im feeling like death is just round the corner my heart is physically acking i cant bare anouther secound without my loved ones its killing me!

    • Shane,
      I’m so sorry to hear of your ordeal.
      I think it’s best if you can get some help for your self. Maybe there is a crisis service, or mental health service through the emergency room – where you can access some mental health support right away. Hopefully, they can help you with how you are feeling right away.
      Beyond that – you probably need a lawyer to help with these charges.
      Hang in there – this will pass!
      And from what you’ve said – your future wife does not feel that you assaulted her, and she still loves you – so hang in there!

  10. plus wittness was inaccurate to wat she saw she thought i head butted her but i was tellin her shut up i know i shouldnt of poked her but thats bearly assult. im 5″9 the witness said i was 5″3 she was a old women with glasses about 25-30 meters away im scared for me and my familys wellbeing im having a nervous brakedown.

  11. theyve put me on diazapan at the moment dont know if its working yet and about the lawyer i refused one to beliving a poke cant be classed as a assult i even said when football players lock horns on the pitch then this should also be classed as a assult plus theres a million plus wittnesses so i dont get it. Why try and get me with a assult charge when they should also have the same consiquencises. The world isnt fair i should not have been treated like a criminal for somthing so pethetic. I have hated the justice system for a while now there always messing with me. They raided my flat a while ago when i was living on my own. I was deppresed and had very bad anxietys and they started kicking my door down for someone that used to live there 3 years ago. When you go in the police station and they advertise for example domestic abuse is down by twentey percent i think they mean how many people theve charged regardless to there inocence. I think they work on commision.

    • Shane,
      I’m no expert on legal matters, and I’m not an expert on your particular circumstances – I just know what you’ve posted here.
      Even though we like to joke about lawyers – if you are being charged for something that shouldn’t even be a charge – my thinking is that a lawyer is NEEDED to help to get this taken care of. Just my 2 cents worth…

  12. Given my recent work experiences and noting the blog entry about Sweden considering a ban on ADHD drivers, I am not surprised it is easier for ADDers to end up in jail.

    I have spent the last 15 years bulding a life for myself with my partner, I have been what I am expected to be if you like. Yet I feel it is social constructs and attitudes that threaten what I have built more than anything else, the very source of my own difficulties also wants me to behave as it dictates; this is fine with me as I don’t like hurting or harming anyone else.

    But I can see how my own deseration could drive me to impulses that may step outside of acceptable realms, I may lose my job (unfairly) due to my ADD, my employer is pressurising me to the point that this may be the case. I would then lose my home which took my 15 years of planning and saving to get, this could also threaten my relationship and my own welbeing all because of my employers blinkered views on my disability.

    What would I do to keep my home? What should I do to keep my home? How do I let go of that and my emotional backlash against those who hindered instead of helping. There are no answers to that, I am hard wired and all I can do is know myself to try and stop me.

    As a child I occasionally took things of little value, I knew it was wrong, but it gave me such a huge buzz, now I am an adult I take responsibility for my actions, but the need for stimulus is still there, it is what I keep in check, I channel, I anticipate where I can, but work in particular makes this harder. The same must have shopping impulses are there for ADDers with no money as those who can afford, the outcome id innevitrable in some cases and again, it is the rest of society who stands as judge and jury.

    My point? How can a society that has no grasp of the inside view decide what should be done to help us keep ourselves, be productive in a job that we deserve (rather than can get), get a home (and keep it), stay out of jail or get out of jail with a chance of helping ourselves?

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