ADHD in the Canadian Justice System

CADDAC National Director

The Center for ADHD Canada is drawing attention to an issue of importance that has long been ignored by the Canadian justice system during October, ADHD Awareness month. Incident rates of ADHD in the correctional population are 5 times greater than what we see in the community and ten times greater for youth. Yet little has been done to introduce assessment and treatment protocols within justice and correctional systems across Canada. This is occurring even though research and on site experience has shown there are significant benefits to doing so.

CADDAC is launching a new paper, “The Benefits of Recognizing and Treating ADHD in Canadian Justice and Corrections Systems”, and sharing it with Ministries of Justice and Corrections, law/bar associations, and courts with the hope that increased awareness will result in a dialogue on the implementation of screening, assessment and treatment of this disorder throughout the  system. Even though this topic may make some in the ADHD community uncomfortable CADDAC feels that it is high time that we shine a light on this issue so better solutions can be found. Research has shown us that the benefits of treatment far outweigh the benefits of punishment for everyone involved.

Often in this country ADHD still remains undiagnosed and under treated. ADHD symptoms of impulsivity along with common coexisting executive functioning impairment and emotional dysregulation create general impairment in self-regulation. When we combine all of this with the self- medication of unrecognized symptoms through substance use, it is easy to understand how those with ADHD become at a higher risk for involvement with the criminal justice system.

Implementing screening and assessment procedures within all areas of the justice system would increase the chance that those with ADHD could be flagged and receive appropriate treatment.

Early detection and treatment of ADHD would benefit offenders and society, and reduce costs to the justice system by:

  • Potentially altering a youth’s trajectory into offending by early intervention
  • Reducing substance abuse, criminal behaviour by 32-41%, and recidivism
  • Improving disruptive behaviour and aggression in inmates while incarcerated with the added benefit of reducing additional time on their sentences.
  • Improving treatment for coexisting mental health disorders, suicidality and substance abuse, which commonly co-occur with ADHD and are much more effectively treated if ADHD is treated first
  • Allowing for better access to rehabilitation and education programs when incarcerated

In summary, the reduction in criminal behaviour, improved behaviour while incarcerated and improved overall rehabilitation of inmates will increase their and their family’s quality of life, reduce costs to the justice system, benefit the communities they return to and Canadian society in general.

Access the paper, key messages and media release in English and French at

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