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ADHD and youth crime

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Mark Easton | 12:17 UK time, Thursday, 17 July 2008

Earlier this week I posted some thoughts on the government's new Youth Crime Action Plan which highlighted a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as a way of spotting those youngsters at greatest risk of becoming criminals.

I reproduce the chart here with our labelling corrected. (The original can be found in the report [pdf] however there is little or nothing in the way of explanation in the accompanying text.)

Graph showing offenders factors

Thanks to those who alerted me to the mistake and thanks too for some fascinating analysis of the data on the link between ADHD and crime.

As happyclucker, Prodnose and statisticslecturer all pointed out, the chart suggests that well over 40% of young offenders have been diagnosed with ADHD - of which the vast majority are high-rate offenders.

This strikes me as a remarkable finding given that an estimated 3-7% of school children suffer from the disorder.

As I said in my earlier post, there is a danger that we assume causation here - that ADHD causes crime - when it might be that those youngsters with behavioural problems are subsequently diagnosed with ADHD.

But some medical literature argues that ADHD is a neurobiological condition, a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects impulses and concentration. Sufferers are sometimes prescribed psychostimulants or antidepressants, drugs which help the brain to work "in a more normal way".

All of which poses some important questions, I think.

I would very much like to hear from readers who have first-hand experience. Is ADHD a genetic condition or are there social causes? Do the treatments work? Are we simply finding a medical label for bad behaviour? Or could an understanding of ADHD help us in the fight against crime and delinquency?

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