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Nobody made the connection: The prevalence of neurodisability in young people who offend

In June 2011 our influential and well received report “I think I must have been born bad”1 pressed for improvements in services designed to meet the mental health needs of young people in the secure estate.

During the investigation, we became concerned about the possibility that considerable numbers of young people in custody may have undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disabilities which contributed to the behaviours that led them to offend. We were sufficiently concerned that we commissioned a literature search seeking to establish the prevalence of such disorders in this group of young people.

This report shows, through analysis of the results of that literature search, that there are indeed likely to be large numbers of young people currently in secure settings in England who have undiagnosed neurodevelopment conditions which have directly contributed to their offending behaviour.

The failure to identify such disorders is a tragedy in many ways. It directly, certainly negatively, affects the lives of the victims of these children's crimes, of the children themselves, their families, the services seeking to change offenders’ lives for the better, and wider society.

The key message in this report is that it is essential that we identify and treat these children’s conditions at an early stage. Doing so is, surely, the most effective way to avoid the huge individual, social and financial costs of the criminal behaviours they may otherwise continue to display in the longer term.