DiNino, 55, was found dead in her jail cell in Berks County. She had been there for 24 hours when she was found deceased. She had owed $2,000 in fines related to her children’s attendance at school. DeNino’s cause of death still is undetermined but investigators say it is not considered suspicious.
DeNino had seven children. Her official obituary is posted in this story.
“This lady didn’t need to be there,” District Judge Dean Patton — who said he was “reluctant” to sentence DiNino — told AP. ”We don’t do debtors prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago.”
DeNino described her as "a lost soul," the Star Tribune reported, and questioned Pennsylvanian laws that criminalize parental lapses including truancy or failing to pay a trash bill.
DeNino’s case is not uncommon. Authorities say that about 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone to pay off similar fines. Most of those are women. The population of Berks County is 413,521. The medium income is $55,021, according to US Census figures.
More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — the majority of them women — because of similar fines.
Judge Patton said he lost sleep over DeNino’s death, the AP reports. But he also was conflicted of the effectiveness of punishing parents for the lack of school attendance of their children. The judge noted that a short jail stint can sometimes “break the habit” of parents who would rather party into the night rather than take their kids to school the next day.
CBS News reports, ""What you see is kind of a slice of inner-city life," said lawyer Richard Guida, who handled truancy cases, including DiNino's, as a Reading School District solicitor for more than a decade. "The people home taking care of the children are mothers. Many times, they're overwhelmed, and some of these kids are no angels."
"Language barriers can also be an issue for letters and phone calls between the parents and school, given that the vast majority of the city and school population is Hispanic, he said."
The county’s policy has cut the truancy rate by more than 30 percent since it was instituted a few years ago. The program gives families up to 60 days to keep detailed logs of each class and of homework assignments. It is designed to hold parents responsible for their children’s school performance.
Patton said that despite the fact that DiNino did not work, she did not help with her four children at home. She thumbed her nose at the court by skipping hearings or arrived late or without the documents she was required to produce..
.“She cared about her kids, but her kids ruled the roost,” Patton said. “She was just accepting what was coming, and (would) let the cards fall where they may.”
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