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Open Access Research article

The effectiveness of police custody assessments in identifying suspects with intellectual disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Susan Young123*, Emily J Goodwin1, Ottilie Sedgwick1 and Gisli H Gudjonsson12

Author Affiliations

1 King’s College London, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK

2 Broadmoor Hospital, Crowthorne, UK

3 Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, PO23, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK

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BMC Medicine 2013, 11:248  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-11-248

Published: 21 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Intellectual Disabilities (ID) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are recognized psychological vulnerabilities in police interviews and court proceedings in England and Wales. The aims of this study were to investigate: (a) the prevalence of ID and/or ADHD among suspects detained at a large London metropolitan police station and their relationship with conduct disorder (CD), (b) the impact of their condition on police staff resources, (c) the effectiveness of current custody assessment tools in identifying psychological vulnerabilities, and (d) the use of ‘Appropriate Adults’ in interviews.

Method

A total of 200 individuals in a police custody suite were interviewed and screened for ID, ADHD (current symptoms) and CD.

Results

The screening rates for these three disorders were 6.7%, 23.5% and 76.3%, respectively. ADHD contributed significantly to increased requests being made of staff after controlling for CD and duration of time in custody. This is a novel finding. Reading and writing difficulties and mental health problems were often identified from the custody risk assessment tools, but they were not used effectively to inform on the need for the use of an Appropriate Adult. The frequency with which Appropriate Adults were provided to support detainees in police interviews (4.2%) remains almost identical to that found in a similar study conducted 20 years previously.

Conclusions

The current findings suggest that in spite of reforms recently made in custodial settings, procedures may not have had the anticipated impact of improving safeguards for vulnerable suspects. Detainees with ID and ADHD require an Appropriate Adult during police interviews and other formal custody procedures, which they commonly do not currently receive. The findings of the current study suggest this may be due, in large part, to the ineffective use of risk-assessment tools and healthcare professionals, which represent missed opportunities to identify such vulnerabilities.

Keywords:
Intellectual disabilities; ADHD; Conduct disorder; IQ; Risk assessment; Police