Using Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI), a large database of linked de-identified administrative and survey data about people and households, a local study team examined a three-year birth cohort (mid-1992 through mid-1995) totaling 149,076 persons.
The team assessed the presence of ADHD within this cohort through diagnosis codes and inference from medication dispensing, where there was at least one code relating to an ADHD diagnosis in the medication datasets. This subgroup consisted of 3,975 persons.
Next, they related this information to criminal justice system interactions of increasing severity, starting with police proceedings, and continuing with court charges, court convictions, and incarcerations. These interactions were tracked during an eight-year period from participants’ 17th birthday through their 25th birthday.
In this same period the team also tracked types of offenses: against people; against property; against organizations, government, and community; and violent offenses.
In all cases, the study team adjusted for gender, ethnicity, deprivation, and area of residence as potential confounders.
With these adjustments, young adults with ADHD were over twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be proceeded against by police, to be charged with an offense, and to be convicted. They were almost five times as likely to be incarcerated.
With the same adjustments, young adults with ADHD were over twice as likely as their typically developing peers to be convicted of offenses against organizations, government, and community. They were almost three times as likely to be convicted of crimes against persons, and over three and a half times more likely to be convicted of either violent offenses or offenses against property.
The authors noted, “The greater effect size for incarceration observed in our study may be due to the lack of control for comorbid conditions such as CD [conduct disorder], which are known criminogenic risk factors.”
They also noted, “The sharp increase in the risk of incarceration observed may also signal differences in the NZ justice system’s approach to ADHD, which may be less responsive to the condition than other nations, particularly the steps in the justice system between conviction and sentence. This would suggest that the UNCRPD [United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] obligations of equal recognition before the law and the elimination of discrimination on the basis of disability are not being met for individuals with ADHD in NZ.”
They concluded, “Our findings revealed that not only were individuals with ADHD overrepresented at all stages of the CJS [criminal justice system] and offense types examined, there was also a pattern of increasing risk for CJS interactions as these individuals moved through the system. These results highlight the importance of early identification and responsivity to ADHD within the CJS and suggest that the NZ justice system may require changes to both of these areas to ensure that young individuals with ADHD receive equitable access to, and treatment within, the CJS.”
Francesca Anns, Stephanie D’Souza, Conrad MacCormick, Brigit Mirfin-Veitch, Betony Clasby, Nathan Hughes, Warren Forster, Eden Tuisaula, and Nicholas Bowden, “Risk of Criminal Justice System Interactions in Young Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Findings From a National Birth Cohort,” Journal of Attention Disorders (2023), 1-11, https://doi.org/10.1177/10870547231177469.