A woman dies in prison after being sentenced for two days overtruancy fines. The Pennsylvania mother of seven died in a jail cell while serving time for her children's absence from school. The controversial sentence is drawing a firestorm of criticism from legislators that the woman is an example of punishing impoverished parents.
Corrections One reports June 16 said PA Senator Judy Schwank, (D) Berks County is confused by this sentence and why this woman was in prison in the first place.
"I cannot understand how someone ends up going to jail. They did not murder someone, they did not steal, they did not commit a felony. How does jail time equate to resolving this particular problem?"
Eileen DiNino, 55, of Reading, was the mother of seven children. Her 48-hour sentence was over her children's multiple truancy violations, CBS News reports.
This woman dies in prison halfway through her sentence which would have reportedly compensated for about the $2,000 in fines and court costs incurred. The past-due fines have accrued over the years, and had to do mostly with her sons attending a vocational school.
District Judge Dean R. Patton of Berks County jail was hesitant to send Dinino to jail over not paying the debt for four years. He asks:
"Did something happen? Was she scared to death?"
The judge describes her as "a lost soul," and questions Pennsylvanian laws that "criminalize such lapses as truancy or failing to pay a trash bill."
Patton said the mom didn't need to be in prison, noting:
"We don't do debtors prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago."
Police say the 55-year-old woman's death isn't suspicious, but an investigation into the cause of her death is being looked into.
Sadly, over 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County over truancy fines since 2000. Even more disturbing is that two-thirds of them have been women. An attorney who handles truancy cases -- Richard Giuda -- reflects on the system and how it punished DiNino.
"What you see is kind of a slice of inner-city life. The people home taking care of the children are mothers. Many times, they're overwhelmed, and some of these kids are no angels."
Another issue in truancy cases that work against people serving sentences is language barriers. Letters and phone calls between the parents and the school can be a hindrance, Giuda says.
Truancy fines are said to be $75 or less. They add up over court costs and other fees, however. DiNino's court record reveals a laundry list of court fees is $8 for a "judicial computer project; $60 for Berks County constables; $10 for postage. The woman had been cited over the years, according to CBS News.
"The woman didn't have any money," said Diana L. Sealy, whose son married DiNino's daughter. "Years ago, I tried helping her out. She had all these kids."
Judge Patton has lost sleep over the death of Eileen DiNino. He says the mom didn't appear to have much help with her children and had an unkept appearance, but came to court looking clean. She had to wear tape on her glasses. She often skipped hearings because she was so overwhelmed.
When a woman dies in prison over truancy fines -- a mom with so many children to take care of -- it underscores the fact something needs to be re-evaluated in the legal system somewhere..