ADHD modulates the course of delinquency: a 15-year follow-up study of young incarcerated man

  • Florence Philipp-Wiegmann
  • Michael Rösler
  • Oriana Clasen
  • Toivo Zinnow
  • Petra Retz-Junginger
  • Wolfgang Retz
Original Paper


There is growing evidence of an association between ADHD and rule-breaking behaviour and that subjects with ADHD are more likely to be involved in the legal system. However, the research on ADHD as a risk factor not only for delinquency but also for recidivism is scarce and findings are controversial. Therefore, we explored the impact of ADHD on the course of delinquency in a sample of incarcerated young men. We conducted a 15-year follow-up study by investigating the criminal records of 106 former youth prisoners. Criminal recidivism was operationalized through three variables: criminal recidivism; frequency of recidivism; and time to recidivism. The incremental predictive validity of ADHD was analysed using survival analysis and controlled for confounders associated with recidivism. Offenders with ADHD (n = 74) reoffended 2.5 times faster and showed a higher rate of recidivism and further incarcerations compared to non-ADHD offenders (n = 33), even when controlling for general risk factors such as antisocial personality disorder. Median survival rate ranged between 6 and 7 months in the ADHD groups and 25 months in the non-ADHD group. Our results revealed that ADHD has an incremental predictive power on criminal recidivism, even above general risk factors. Moreover, the criminogenic influence of ADHD appeared to be crucial in terms of the interplay of childhood ADHD, irrespectively of the persistence of the symptomatology into later life. Our findings therefore highlight the importance of early intervention and consequently prevention.


Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ADHD Offender Delinquency Recidivism Follow-up 



The authors wish to thank Pauline Hellenthal in preparing study material and data collection and Dr. Darren Bishopp for his helpful comments on a previous draft.

Compliance with ethical standards

Financial support


Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interest.

Ethical approval

The authors assert that all procedures contributing to this work comply with the ethical standards of the relevant national and institutional committees on human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Florence Philipp-Wiegmann
    • 1
  • Michael Rösler
    • 1
  • Oriana Clasen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Toivo Zinnow
    • 1
  • Petra Retz-Junginger
    • 1
  • Wolfgang Retz
    • 3
  1. 1.Institute for Forensic Psychology and PsychiatrySaarland UniversityHomburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and PsychotherapySaarland University Medical CenterHomburgGermany
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University Medical CenterJohannes Gutenberg University MainzMainzGermany

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