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June 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Blog

A mother of seven was found dead in a Berks County, Pennsylvania jail cell on June7, 2013. Her name was Eileen DiNino. She was 55.

DiNino’s crime? She was unemployed, on welfare, and trying to raise seven kids by herself, and DiNino was unable to pay several thousand dollars “in fines relating to her children’s truancy from schools in the Reading, PA. area.”

The Associate press reports the judge who sentenced her stated; “This lady didn’t need to be there,”We don’t do debtors’ prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago.” The Judge of course is wrong- debtors’ prisons are still with us – at least in several states- including Pennsylvania.

Ms. DiNino’s fines shows that for one truancy violation, the sum of $10.00 was added for postage, $60.00 for the county constables and $8.00 for a “computer project.”

District Judge Dean Patton, who sentenced DiNino to jail, told the Reading Eagle that “This woman should not have died alone in prison. Our ultimate goal is not to fine people or put them in jail, but that is the only tool the Legislature has given us when people can’t afford to pay.” Judge Pattton didn’t explain why he didn’t simply dismiss the charges rather than impose a sentence he knew to be unnecessary and unjust. He does report he lost sleep over the incident.

More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — two-thirds of them women — over truancy fines since 2000, the Reading Eagle reported Wednesday. Reading, the county seat, is about 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

Berks County Commissioner Kevin R. Barnhardt, chairman of the county prison board stated:

“This woman died in prison, away from her family,” Barnhardt told the Reading Eagle. “And for what?”

The answer is to Mr. Barnhardt’s question is obvious: Ms. DiNino died in prison as a result of an insignificant debt and of our society’s lack of compassion.


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