Michael Fitzgerald, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, said failure to diagnose and treat ADHD among convicts meant that, on release, they were likely to end back on drugs and possibly further crime.
His comments follow the publication of a report by the British Government which said children with ADHD were more likely to commit crime later in life.
“A big concern of mine in the prison system, and with offenders in general, is ADHD is not being diagnosed, it’s not being treated, and people with ADHD are more likely to have trouble with the law, more likely to have accidents and to have drug problems.”
He and a colleague carried out the first study of ADHD among Irish prisoners 10 years ago, when they looked at a small sample of inmates in Mountjoy Jail.
He said that compared to a prevalence rate of 5% in the general population, they found a rate of 9%.
“It was twice as high and I’ve seen figures of 20%-50% from international studies. The big problem is the hostility to diagnosis of ADHD, particularly of older adolescents and adults.
“The adult psychiatrists are not taking it into account, so there is an awful lot we could do with an attitudinal shift. I would ask the minister for justice to speak to his advisors in relation to ADHD and get it treated,” he said.
Prof Fitzgerald said he interviewed two prisoners this year, one in St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders and the other in Cloverhill Remand Prison, and both inmates had undiagnosed ADHD.
Speaking on Morning Ireland, he said there were two types of ADHD. The first, and larger group, are people with problems with attention and concentration. He said there was a subtype, who also had features of hyperactivity and impulsivity, that gets them into trouble.
“They drop out of school, they can’t handle school, they go onto the street, they get involved with drugs, with delinquent gangs, then get involved in criminal activity, they are also very easily caught, because they are hyperactive and impulsive.”
He said early intervention was crucial: “We can identify them at 3-4 years of age. There is evidence early intervention at that age has reduced crime 20 years later.”
He reassured parents of children with ADHD that the majority will not get into trouble.
* Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder Family Support Group at www.hadd.ie or 01-8748349.