Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Among Longer-term Prison Inmates is a Prevalent, Persistent and Disabling Disorder

Ylva Ginsberg; Tatja Hirvikoski; Nils Lindefors


BMC Psychiatry. 2010;10(1) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Background: ADHD is a common and disabling disorder, with an increased risk for coexisting disorders, substance abuse and delinquency. In the present study, we aimed at exploring ADHD and criminality. We estimated the prevalence of ADHD among longer-term prison inmates, described symptoms and cognitive functioning, and compared findings with ADHD among psychiatric outpatients and healthy controls.
Methods: At Norrtälje Prison, we approached 315 male inmates for screening of childhood ADHD by the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS-25) and for present ADHD by the Adult ADHD Self-Report Screener (ASRS-Screener). The response rate was 62%. Further, we assessed 34 inmates for ADHD and coexisting disorders. Finally, we compared findings with 20 adult males with ADHD, assessed at a psychiatric outpatient clinic and 18 healthy controls.
Results: The estimated prevalence of adult ADHD among longer-term inmates was 40%. Only 2 out of 30 prison inmates confirmed with ADHD had received a diagnosis of ADHD during childhood, despite most needed health services and educational support. All subjects reported lifetime substance use disorder (SUD) where amphetamine was the most common drug. Mood and anxiety disorders were present among half of subjects; autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among one fourth and psychopathy among one tenth. Personality disorders were common; almost all inmates presented conduct disorder (CD) before antisocial personality disorder (APD). Prison inmates reported more ADHD symptoms during both childhood and adulthood, compared with ADHD psychiatric outpatients. Further, analysis of executive functions after controlling for IQ showed both ADHD groups performed poorer than controls on working memory tests. Besides, on a continuous performance test, the ADHD prison group displayed poorer results compared with both other groups.
Conclusions: This study suggested ADHD to be present among 40% of adult male longer-term prison inmates. Further, ADHD and coexisting disorders, such as SUD, ASD, personality disorders, mood- and anxiety disorders, severely affected prison inmates with ADHD. Besides, inmates showed poorer executive functions also when controlling for estimated IQ compared with ADHD among psychiatric outpatients and controls. Our findings imply the need for considering these severities when designing treatment programmes for prison inmates with ADHD.


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