The Government needs to know about ADHD

If only the government knew just how much money they are wasting keeping hundreds of thousands of people in prison unnecessarily, I’m pretty sure they would take action.

All these particular people need is assessment, diagnosis and medication for ADHD – then they could escape the revolving door for good. Thereby saving the government a phenomenal amount of public money.

 How can I be sure of my facts? Well for starters I am diagnosed ADHD myself. I am also a qualified and registered BACP counsellor, CBT therapist and life coach. Plus, since 2004 I have spent much time in the prison service working as a volunteer, tutor and then qualified counsellor. I have worked in four different young offender and adult male prisons across three counties and for over 20 years I’ve worked with ex-offenders in the community, a very high proportion of whom are ADHD.

The amount of people in prison with ADHD is scandalous. The stories would horrify most people. For example, did you know that people diagnosed and medicated for ADHD are taken off their ADHD medication the minute they enter the prison system. Ditto those on anxiety medication like Pregabalin.

The reason given for this is the prison service doesn’t like giving out medication for fear it will be sold or used in suicide attempts. Hence whether you have a broken leg, a migraine or the flu all you are likely to receive are a couple of paracetamol. Handing out stimulants just isn’t on HMPS’ agenda.

 In my time in the prison service I have come across hundreds of heart-breaking stories involving ADHD. Names will be changed to protect previous clients, but all of these people exist.

 Jason. 22. Diagnosed ADHD at the age of five. Shortly after being diagnosed his parents split up, he was left with his dad who never took him back to the second psychiatrist appointment to be medicated. Jason has been in and out of prison and unmedicated all his life and is the most hyperactive person I have ever met. He bounced around the prison, couldn’t sit still for one minute and yet nobody took any notice of the fact that he was crying out for ADHD medication.

 Then there’s Alex. 46. He came to me in prison desperate for help after spending 20 years taking street amphetamines (speed) on the outside because it was “the only thing that made him feel normal”. After one counselling session it was screamingly obvious to me he was undiagnosed ADHD. When I explained the traits of ADHD he completely agreed and had dozens of light bulb moments in front of my very eyes. Suddenly his whole life made sense. We then spent five months trying to get anybody in the prison to take notice that he needed diagnosing and medicating if he wasn’t to go back to his drug-taking ways on the outside. Every single day Alex put an application in to see somebody in healthcare. Weekly I was emailing and telephoning the psychologist and psychiatrist begging for them to see him. After FIVE MONTHS eventually they gave him an appointment at which he was diagnosed combined severe ADHD. No medication was offered however, and I helped Alex, on the outside, access ADHD medication.

As I’m typing this, one of my clients from 2013 is serving another 18 months in prison after having only managed one day on the outside when he was last released. Aiden, 25 was diagnosed ADHD aged 6. He spent all his childhood in care where initially he was medicated for ADHD but on being transferred from one children’s home, his medical records were lost, and he has never been medicated since. He has been in and out of prison nine times and the only reason he is serving this current 18 months is because the last time he was released he couldn’t find his hostel in time, so was recalled to prison. Nobody took into account he was ADHD and would struggle to get himself from Oxford to Peterborough using public transport when he had spent most of his life either in care or in the prison system and #’looked after’.

Then there’s Ben, also 25. Ben was diagnosed ADHD aged nine but came from a very chaotic background. After almost being put in care, he was taken in by his grandmother who worked full time and had no time to take him to doctors or psychiatrists. He was medicated for a very short time in his childhood but has never been medicated as an adult. Last week Ben set fire to himself in his cell in a bid to get rid of himself as his mental health has been very unstable. I counselled Ben for a year and have stayed in touch with him for the last four. It is my firm opinion that if he was on the correct ADHD medication he wouldn’t have such low self-esteem and would have been able to settle more on the occasions he has been out of prison. Instead he has suffered with terrible anxiety and his latest risk-taking and thrill-seeking behaviour has seen him get a 16 year prison sentence.

These are just a handful of examples. Tragically I have hundreds more.

When entering the prison system every prisoner goes on an induction wing, usually for a week, where they are tested and assessed in all kinds of things. An online testing tool I use for ADHD takes less than 10 minutes. If this was included in the induction week and was followed up by a proper ADHD assessment and then medication, droves of prisoners would not be going back into prison time after time.

Taking it back one step further, I believe everybody entering a police station should be tested for ADHD too. This would very quickly identify those who needed assessment and medication which would be very likely to keep them out of trouble in future.

The vast majority of people in prison with ADHD are in there for minor risk-taking and thrill-seeking behaviour. Generally, they are not rapists or murderers. They are more likely to be in prison for fighting, stealing cars, driving too fast, stealing, criminal damage, ABH and GBH. Whilst none of these things are acceptable, a good portion of them wouldn’t be happening at all if the perpetrators had been identified as ADHD and medicated.

It is my personal goal to see every single person in the prison system tested for ADHD; and every single person entering the prison to be tested for ADHD. If the government acted NOW and saw just how much money they could be saving by doing this one simple act, I’m quite sure our prison population would be drastically reduced in one fell swoop and the benefits to the public purse would be immeasurable. Never mind the thousands of lives that would be transformed for those suffering with undiagnosed ADHD. And of course, the public benefits too with the subsequent reduction in crime numbers.

It’s a win-win situation and I cannot understand why action hasn’t been taken ‘til now.

This article was written by Sarah Templeton for ADHD Action