Woman's Death in Prison Cell For Truancy Fines Speaks To a Broken System

| by Will Hagle

A woman serving two days in a Pennsylvania jail for truancy fines died while incarcerated. Her death prompts critics to question the way the current legal system punishes low-income parents for relatively minor financial infractions. 

The woman, 55-year-old Reading resident Eileen DiNino, was serving time for an accumulated $2,000 in fines and court costs that, according to the StarTribune, had accumulated since 1999. DiNino was the mother of seven children, four of whom still lived at home, which ultimately led to her large accumulation of debt for otherwise small fines. 

DiNino was found dead in her jail cell nearly halfway through her 48-hour sentence. Her cause of death remains unknown, although no foul play is suspected. 

According to ThinkProgress, however, DiNino was reportedly on medication for high blood pressure, and prison officials claim they did not administer any medication during DiNino’s time there. 

The judge who sentenced DiNino, District Judge Dean R. Patton, expressed regret at his decision, claiming he had no other choice under the current law. 

“This lady didn’t need to be there. We don’t do debtor's prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago,” said Patton.  

Patton also acknowledged that sometimes a short jail sentence can help parents clean up their act in order to take control of their children and ensure they are attending school as mandated by the law. He understood that DiNino was unable to pay the $2,000 fine, and he worked to have her sentence shortened to two days in order to clear her debt. 

According to ABC News, DiNino did not work and had struggled to manage her children at home. She also frequently missed meetings and court hearings, which those close to her attribute to her being overwhelmed with a large family and a low income.

Sources: StarTribune, ThinkProgress, ABC News