A 55-year old mother of seven was found dead in her jail cell in a Pennsylvania jail on Saturday morning. Eileen DiNino of Reading, Pennsylvania was arrested and sent to prison for the weekend after she was unable to pay the 2,000 dollars in fines she received for her children’s truancy, according to WTRF News. State police say the mother of seven was found unresponsive in the Berks County Prison. The cause of death is still undetermined, and according to WFMZ, legislators are questioning how she died and why she was sent to jail 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,” Senator Judy Schwank asked. “I have questions as well as what happened to the woman in prison. How did it happen that she passed away? Did she need medical attention and not receive it?” Reading Eagle reported that the mother was on medication for high blood pressure and prison officials issued no medication to DeNino.
The judge who sentenced DiNino explained that according to the law, it was the only option for erasing the fines the woman had accrued after her children had shipped school. The truancy fines had been accumulating since 1999. DiNino had 55 violations against her after her children missed numerous days of school. According to the judge, state law allows for five days in jail for each violation, so the sentence was lenient. “That unfortunately is part of the law in Pennsylvania and I think it is insanity. There has got to be a better way to deal with truancy than putting somebody in prison,” Christian Leinbach, the County commissioner, explained.
DiNino died 24-hours into her jail sentence. An autopsy was performed. Toxicology results are pending. Even District Judge Dean R. Patton was distraught over the mother’s death. He reportedly has lost sleep over her death. “Did something happen? Was she scared to death,” Judge Patton asked? The judge sent DiNino to jail Friday, and described Eileen as a lost soul. “This lady didn’t need to be there,” Patton commented. “We don’t do debtors prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago.”
“What you see is kind of a slice of inner-city life,” said lawyer Richard Guida, who handled DiNino’s truancy case. “The people home taking care of the children are mothers. Many times, they’re overwhelmed, and some of these kids are no angels.”
“The woman didn’t have any money,” said Diana L. Sealy. Sealy’s son married DiNino’s daughter. “Years ago, I tried helping her out. She had all these kids.” DiNino didn’t have a job and had no help at home. The judge said she was overwhelmed and often missed hearings or arrived unprepared for them.
“She cared about her kids, but her kids ruled the roost,” Judge Patton explained. “She was just accepting what was coming, and (would) let the cards fall where they may.” The judge said that on Friday, when she arrived to her hearing, she was ready to see her sentencing eliminate her fines. “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.”
Christian Leinbach, said, “I think there are better ways to deal with nonviolent crimes. I am not even sure, quite frankly, that things like truancy and parking should be criminal offenses, and frankly support legislation that would decriminalize those offenses.” Since the mother was found dead, legislators are considering changing the PA law to remove jail-time for truancy-related violations.