Charity calls for prison officers to receive training to spot ADHD
A charity has called for prison officers at young offenders' centres in Northern Ireland to have mandatory training to help spot and understand attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It comes after ADD-NI said at least 70% of young people in Hydebank Young Offenders Unit have the behavioural disorder.
Sarah Salters from the charity says she believes a lot of the crimes committed by inmates are "impulsive acts" where the young person does not properly engage their brain beforehand.
"They carry out the act and it's too late," she said.
ADHD is usually diagnosed in childhood, but the impairing symptoms persist into adulthood in up to 70% of cases. Undiagnosed and untreated adults often have problems holding down a job or staying in a relationship.
According to the NHS website, common symptoms of ADHD include a short attention span, restlessness, constant fidgeting, over-activity and being impulsive.
In Sweden, where criminal, health and social care records are linked, researchers have found people convicted of crimes are much more likely to have ADHD than the rest of the population.
Estimates suggest between 7% and 40% of people in the criminal justice system may have it or other similar disorders, though many won't have a formal diagnosis.
Ms Salters has now called for prison officers to receive mandatory training to spot ADHD among young people in order to improve their understanding of the condition.
ADD-NI was established in 1997 as a support network for children, young people and the families of those affected by ADHD. Dr Matt McConkey, an expert in ADHD, said the figures are consistent with other young offenders centres across the UK.
He said assessing children who are involved in a first criminal offence would be a positive step in treating the condition at the earliest stage.
"Whenever you first enter the criminal justice system, that could be a unique opportunity to diagnose these children and follow on comprehensive treatment," he told the BBC.
He said having ADHD does not mean the child will automatically have a criminal record, however, early assessment could help reduce repeat offending.
Dr McConkey also supported the calls for prison officers to be trained in early recognition of the condition.
He added that both teachers and parents are becoming more aware in spotting the potential signs of ADHD and this provides better outcomes for the child.