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Debtor’s Prison for a Child’s Truancy Ends with Mother’s Death

June 19, 2014
Mark Horne
Source …..


Back in December of last year I posted about the re-invention of “debtor’s prison.” I noted it was often happening in response to fines that people were unable to pay. So it has happened again and the accused ended up paying all she had. She died.

A Pennsylvania mother of seven died in a jail cell where she was serving a two-day sentence for her children’s absence from school, drawing complaints from the judge that sent her there about a broken system that punishes impoverished parents.

Eileen DiNino, 55, of Reading, was found dead in a jail cell Saturday, halfway through a 48-hour sentence that would have erased about $2,000 in fines and court costs. The debt had accrued since 1999, and involved several of her seven children, most recently her boys at a vocational high school.

“Did something happen? Was she scared to death?” said District Judge Dean R. Patton, who reluctantly sent DiNino to the Berks County jail Friday after she failed to pay the debt for four years.

He described her as “a lost soul,” and questioned Pennsylvanian laws that criminalize such lapses as truancy or failing to pay a trash bill.

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

Well, it has come back.

They claim the woman died of natural causes, but it is hard for me to take such a claim seriously. She just happened to suddenly die in the middle of her jail sentence?

That being said, my problem is with the system, not the people—as far as I can tell from newspaper accounts. By letting the woman “pay” the debt in two days he probably was motivated to help her be debt-free.

Although she was often unkempt, she came to court clean and neat to surrender Friday, he said. She had on clean sweatpants, had combed her hair, and had tape holding her glasses together.

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

I think it is time to figure out a different way of handling these fines for those who cannot afford them.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 19, 2014 7:05 am

    This is obscene and evil!
    When my daughter was 16 yrs old, she was very hard to handle. I drove her to school 3 blocks away…and waited to see her walk into the school before I left to go back home.
    I had just driven in to the garage when I heard the phone ringing. It was the school Principal who was threatening to call Child Protective Services on me because my daughter ha skipped school.
    I jumped back into the car and drove to the school. I marched my butt right into the principal’s office. I told him, I drive her to school every single day and WATCH her walk into your school building. I said! “Once in the building, she is YOUR responsibility NOT mine.
    Since you can’t keep a child in your school from sneaking out the back,, you call me again, and I will have KTVT, WFAA and ABC meet me here at the school to interview you!

    It never happened again to her, but! I got a call from my daughter from school. Seems a young man’s mother had to work so he stayed home to take care of his little brother who was sick. They were going to expel him and call Child Protective Services on his mother.
    Again, I jumped in the car. The little boy was waiting outside for me.

    I heard the Secretary of the Principal yell, “Mr Browning, that woman is here again!”
    He met me at the door. I explained about the boy and warned him that if he expelled that boy, I’d have the TV stations out here!

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