Filicidal women: jail or psychiatric ward?

Can J Psychiatry. 2003 Mar;48(2):94-8. doi: 10.1177/070674370304800205.


Objective: This study aims to examine the legal procedure that women who are charged with killing their children experience and to compare the variables that discriminate between those found guilty and those who received a medical disposition.

Method: The sample comprises 32 adult women who killed their biological children in the province of Quebec over an 11-year period (1981 to 1991).

Results: Of the sample, 18 women were found guilty, and 14 received a medical disposition. Of those who were the object of a penal disposition, most received a sentence that exceeded 2 years. Women who were sentenced to prison had a lower socioeconomic status and, compared with those who received a medical disposition, were more likely to have had a criminal and substance abuse history. Further, this latter subgroup of women were more likely to have a psychiatric history, to suffer from psychotic symptoms, and to become oriented to the mental health system immediately after their offense.

Conclusions: These comparative results suggest that women's profiles differ according to some descriptive variables. From a clinical point of view, however, these results do not suggest that a different approach with respect to treatment of filicidal women or prevention of filicide would be more appropriate.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Prisons*
  • Psychiatric Department, Hospital*