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Online ISSN: 1099-176X    Print ISSN: 1091-4358
The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics
Volume 12, Issue 3, 2009. Pages: 119-138
Published Online: 30 September 2009

Copyright © 2009 ICMPE.


 

Long-term Consequences of Childhood ADHD on Criminal Activities

Jason Fletcher,1* Barbara Wolfe2

1Ph.D., Yale University, School of Public Health, New Haven, CT, USA
2Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Economics, Department of Population Health Sciences, and La Follette School of Public Affairs, Madison, WI, USA

* Correspondence to: Jason Fletcher, Ph.D., YaleUniversity, School of Public Health, 60 College Street # 303, New Haven, CT06520, USA.
Tel.: +1-203-785 5760
Fax: +1-203-785 6287
E-mail: jason.fletcher@yale.edu

Source of Funding: This research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health under Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award T32 MH18029-20 from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Abstract

The question of whether childhood mental illness has long term consequences in terms of criminal behavior has been little studied, yet it could have major consequences for both the individual and society more generally. In this paper, we focus on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), one of the most prevalent mental conditions in school-age children, to examine the long-term effects of childhood mental illness on criminal activities, controlling for a rich set of individual, family, and community level variables. The empirical estimates, consistent with economic models of crime that predict that those with less “legal” human capital are more likely to choose to engage in illegal activity, show that children who experience ADHD symptoms face a substantially increased likelihood of engaging in many types of criminal activities. An included “back-of-the-envelope” calculation of the social costs associated with criminal activities by individuals with childhood ADHD finds the costs to be substantial.

 

Background: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most prevalent mental health problems facing children. Little is known of the long-term consequences of ADHD on young adult outcomes.

Aims of the Study: We examine the associations between childhood ADHD symptoms and criminal activities as a young adult.

Methods: We use a nationally representative study of US adolescents and logistic regression analysis to examine our research question. We also control for common family factors using sibling random and fixed effects and test the robustness of our results in several ways.

Results: The empirical estimates show that children who experience ADHD symptoms face a substantially increased likelihood of engaging in many types of criminal activities. An included calculation of the social costs associated with criminal activities by individuals with childhood ADHD finds the costs to be substantial.

Discussion: Our study provides the first evidence using a nationally representative dataset of the long term consequences on criminal activities of childhood ADHD. Our results are quite robust to a number of specification checks. Limitations of our study include that our measures of ADHD are retrospective, we have no information on treatment for ADHD, and it remains possible that our results are confounded by unmeasured variables.

Implications: Our results suggest that children showing ADHD symptoms should be viewed as a group at high risk of poor outcomes as young adults. As such, a good case can be made for targeting intervention programs on this group of children and conducting evaluations to learn if such interventions are effective in reducing the probability that these children commit a crime. Development of such intervention programs and evaluating them for efficiency could be dollars well spent in terms of crime and drug abuse averted.


Received 25 June 2008; accepted 24 June 2009

Copyright 2009 ICMPE