Adult and adolescent males with ADHD have an increased propensity to engage in criminal behaviours leading to high rates of arrests, conviction and imprisonment; however, relatively few studies have focused on the rates of ADHD among female prisoners. The reported prevalence of ADHD among female offenders in the US varies widely between studies (14.3–46.0%), and there is a lack of data on the prevalence of ADHD among female prisoners in the UK. The goal of this study was to fill this gap by investigating the prevalence of ADHD in an all-female closed prison in the UK.
A total of 69 female prisoners (aged 18–45 years) from the Newhall Secure Female Prison in Yorkshire, UK participated in the study. Screening of current (past 6 months) and childhood (age 7–12 years) ADHD was based on the self-report Barkley Current and Childhood Symptoms scales, whereby participants rated the frequency of 18 ADHD symptoms described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition. In addition, current and childhood ADHD-related impairments affecting different realms of life (domestic, professional, social and educational) were rated. The impairment items were summed to derive a total impairment score. Data were grouped by age into two categories: young adults (18–25 years) and adults (26–45 years).
Among the participants, 41% presented with childhood symptoms of ADHD that persisted into adulthood, while 19% met adult ADHD criteria but did not fulfil criteria for diagnosis in childhood. Young adults reported a higher frequency of ADHD symptoms in childhood (rs*=-0.47, p<0.001) and adulthood (rs=-0.55, p<0.001) compared with older participants. Relative to those without ADHD, offenders who met both adult and childhood ADHD criteria exhibited significantly higher childhood (13.82 versus 3.75, p<0.001) and current (19.64 versus 5.07, p<0.001) impairment scores. Also, impairment scores for the child plus adult ADHD group were significantly higher than for the adult-only group (13.82 versus 3.62, p<0.001 for childhood impairment; 19.64 versus 14.08, p=0.02 for current impairment). Participants with adult-only ADHD reported higher current impairment scores relative to those without ADHD (14.08 versus 5.07, p<0.001), however the two groups did not differ with respect to childhood impairment.
The results indicate that female prisoners in the UK are more likely to report ADHD symptoms with associated functional impairment compared with the general population. This calls for the implementation of efficient screening and intervention methods to alleviate the burden of ADHD in prisons.
Read more about the prevalence of ADHD among female offenders in the UK here
*Spearman’s Rho correlation
Farooq R, Emerson LM, Keoghan S, et al. Prevalence of adult ADHD in an all-female prison unit. Atten Defic Hyperact Disord 2016; 8: 113-119.