Skip to main content

See also:

Woman dies in prison: Pa. mom found dead in cell after 48-hour sentence

Empty jail cell (file photo)
Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

A 55-year-old woman died in a prison cell and the public wants answers. The Pennsylvania mother of seven children was found dead in a jail cell with just hours to go on a two-day sentence imposed on the unemployed mom for failing to pay her children's school an outstanding debt. According to a June 17 report from Yahoo Finance, the woman's death reignited the debate on the relevance of debtors' prisons in the United States.

Eileen DiNino is the woman who died in prison after a judge passed a sentence on her for not paying some $2,000 in fees for her truant children, some of whom were still living with her at the time.

Sources say the woman either was unwilling or unable to pay the school debt that kept accumulating since 1999. Moreover, there are reports DiNino missed several court hearings to hash out the matter, which placed her under contempt.

Salon wrote the woman, who is usually "unkempt," arrived to serve her sentence with clean clothing and a "neat" appearance. And according to judge, who sentenced the woman, she had turned a new leaf, so to speak.

She was a different person. She was cleaned up, smiling. I think she realized, when this is done, the weight was off her shoulders," said District Judge Dean Patton.

In fact, it was his idea – that by jailing the woman -- to "break the habit" of parents who would rather party than to make sure their kids get off to school. Apparently, he was riding on the success of a county, which just a few years ago, placed a stringent policy in place. Essentially, it required parents to keep daily logs from one to two months that tracked their kids' assignments.

In doing, so, it compelled families to manage the education process at home more effectively. And by all accounts, it was working; the district's truancy rates dropped by 30 percent.

Some applaud the success of the school's intervention. However, others say the penalties imposed on parents and single moms -- most of them women – are harsh if they cannot meet the requirements, often through no fault of their own. In short, despite some parents working hard to keep a roof over their family's heads, their efforts fall short.

The woman who died in prison was an example of someone doing what they could for her family, but support was lacking on a number of fronts. Ironically, the system is geared up to punish even the least of those people who are forced to play the hand they're dealt.

Pennsylvania is known to impose harsh jail sentences on people with outstanding civil debt or inability to pay fees, but when a woman dies alone in prison, it underscores the need for more debate on the worth of so-called debtor jails.

At this time, the woman's cause of death is not known, but no foul play is suspected.