Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most frequent neurodevelopmental disorder in children and is sometimes noted retrospectively in young people and adults who are incarcerated. We aimed to investigate juvenile justice encounters in children with and without ADHD.
Between January, 1995, and December, 2010, we did a population-based cohort study in Western Australia. Anonymised linked population data were obtained from the Western Australia Midwives Notification System. 12 831 non-Indigenous Australian children and young people aged 10–21 years, who were diagnosed and treated with stimulant drugs for ADHD and had a record in the Monitoring Drugs of Dependence System (ADHD cohort), were identified and frequency-matched by age, sex, and socioeconomic status to 29 722 non-Indigenous Australian children and young people who had no record in the Monitoring Drugs of Dependence System (controls). Community correction records and incarceration records were retrieved for all participants from Total Offending Management Solutions. Our primary outcome was to compare justice outcomes between children with ADHD and those without this disorder. We compared cohorts by conditional logistic regression analysis.
9939 boys and 2892 girls were diagnosed and treated for ADHD; 22 875 boys and 6847 girls were frequency-matched controls. 792 (8%) boys and 75 (3%) girls with ADHD had a community correction record, compared with 822 (4%) boys and 75 (1%) girls without ADHD. 132 (1%) boys and 11 (<1%) girls with ADHD had an incarceration record, compared with 108 (<1%) boys and five (<1%) girls without ADHD. Compared with controls, boys with ADHD were two and half times more likely to have a community correction record (odds ratio 2·48, 95% CI 2·22–2·76) or an incarceration record (2·63, 2·01–3·44). Compared with their non-ADHD counterparts, girls with ADHD were nearly three times more likely to have a community correction record (odds ratio 2·86, 95% CI 2·03–4·03) and seven times more likely to have an incarceration record (7·27, 2·29–23·08). Boys with ADHD received their first community correction record at a younger age compared with controls (15·9 vs 16·3 years; p=0·0005), but age at first community correction record was similar for girls (16·5 vs 16·4 years; p=0·87). Burglaries and breaking and entering were the most common reason for a first justice record (total 659 [37%]), and this offence was twice as likely in children with ADHD (for boys, odds ratio 2·24, 95% CI 1·90–2·64; for girls, 2·19, 1·40–3·42).
Justice outcomes for boys and girls were more frequent among children and young people treated for ADHD compared with their non-ADHD counterparts. Unlike girls, boys were more likely to offend at a younger age. Early diagnosis and management of children and young people with ADHD might reduce the over-representation of children with this disorder within the juvenile justice system.