Last month’s tragedy involving a mother accused of killing her children in Duxbury, Massachusetts, has put a spotlight on how postpartum mental health is handled in the criminal justice system.
The legal road for defendant Lindsay Clancy remains unclear. Her attorney has said his client was overmedicated for postpartum depression and anxiety, having been prescribed a dozen medications in four months. He said she even checked herself into a psychiatric hospital three weeks before the crime.
One Massachusetts lawmaker is about to file a bill that could help defendants like her get treatment instead of jail time.
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Illinois became the first state to make postpartum illness a factor in criminal sentencing back in 2018. State Rep. Jim O’Day (D-Worcester) wants Massachusetts to be next.
“It’s uncomfortable. Let’s face it, but I think when you’re talking about uncomfortable circumstances, that’s when change occurs,” O’Day said.
Under the bill he is about to re-file, those charged within a year of giving birth would be screened for postpartum mental health issues. If diagnosed, it could pave the way for the defendant to be found not guilty by reason of mental illness. This would put the person in a mental health facility instead of a jail cell.
“This could be a mental illness rather than a criminal act so then we wouldn’t immediately go to a first-degree murder charge,” O’Day said.
O’Day, who is the house chair of the Ellen Story Commission on Postpartum Depression, said the bill will also focus on education and prevention. It was sent out for study the last two sessions, but he is hopeful the tragedy in Duxbury will lead to more of a discussion.
“The problem is we don’t speak enough about it. We don’t talk enough about it. And at the end of the day, treatment is better than punishment,” O’Day said.
If you are in crisis, The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline provides free, confidential support to any pregnant and postpartum mothers can be reached at 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS.