A Pennsylvania mother of seven who was issued a two-day jail sentence due to her children’s excessive truancy problems was pronounced dead this last Saturday while serving her time. As reported today, 55-year-old Eileen DiNino was found unresponsive during the jail’s routine blood pressure checks, according to the Raw Story. The local coroner's office is still waiting on tests to confirm her cause of death.
Apparently, her children’s school-skipping antics had been documented more than 50 times. These violations had been filed against DiNino in the Muhlenberg and Reading urban areas. According to a Pennsylvania Truancy toolkit, “after a student accumulates three days of unexcused absences, the school must notify the parents that any additional unexcused absences can result in a referral to the magisterial district judge.” But the toolkit also explains that a judge can fine parents, take away a drivers license and possibly move a child out of the parents care. So why was she sent to jail instead of being fined?
The YDR.com Pennsylvania reports that District Judge Dean R. Patton regretted sentencing her to 48-hours in jail, but he made the decision because she refused to pay the $2,000 fines, and serving jail time would erase what she owed. Furthermore, the debts had been piling up since 1999. DiNino’s sentencing is not uncommon for this area; in fact, YDR reports, “more than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County, two-thirds of them women -- over truancy fines since 2000.” Apparently the fines were minimal compared to the large amounts of court costs that had been tacked on top of DiNino’s fines, which added up to thousands of dollars over time.
But members of the prison board believe her case could have been resolved in a non-criminal way. Instead of jail time, Christian Leinback, a Berks County Commissioner, told local Redding news channel 69, that he believes truancy cases should not be held to the same standards as the average criminal laws.
“Who belongs in prison? I find it absolutely egregious that in the 21st century we are putting a mother behind bars because her children chose not to attend schools,” said Leinback. “I think our legislation is too quick to address problems by passing laws. I think in this case, they need to step back and say what type of offenses should really be offenses, and in my mind, truancy is not one of them.
With many states passing truancy laws like the one in Pennsylvania, will parents need to add more worry to their plate regarding how many times their child skips school?