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Mother of 7 Dies In Jail Serving Two-Day Sentence For Truancy

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Eileen DeNino a mother of seven has died in PA jail while she was serving two days sentence related to her childrens truancy from school. www.naturallymoi.com

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Reported by April V. Taylor

Eileen DeNino, a 55-year-old mother of seven, has died in a Pennsylvania jail while she was serving a two-day sentence related to her children’s truancy. DeNino was given the sentence for being unable to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

DeNino’s cause of deαth has yet to be determined but so far, investigators are reporting to ThinkProgress.org that they have not found any evidence suggesting her deαth was suspicious.  Although DeNino had been taking medication for high blood pressure and other health issues, prison officials are reporting that they did not give her any medication prior to her deαth.

In a country whose criminal justice system so disproportionately has a negative impact on the poor, DeNino’s case is an especially troubling one.  The Associated Press reports that her “court file shows a laundry list of court fees for one case alone: $8 for a ‘judicial computer project; $60 for Berks County constables; $10 for postage.”

A judge in DeNino’s case states that he cleared all of her cases last year after realizing she was unable to pay the fines.  However, District Judge Dean Patton sentenced DeNino to serve two days in jail after she did not provide the documentation necessary to prove she was unable to pay the more than $2,000 in fines and penalties that had accrued.

With women being the fastest growing population in America’s mass incarceration epidemic, one has to wonder if such non-violent offenses as truancy really require jail time.  Since 2000, two out of every three people jailed for truancy fines are women.  This case also highlights another national phenomenon which is the fact that court fines and fees often snowball out of control and become an unpayable debt for low-income people. This snowball effect lands those who can’t afford the fees behind bars.

DeNino’s case is not the only one that makes one scratch their head in disbelief.  Other cases of people winding up behind bars for being poor and committing extremely minor offenses include a 19-year-old who was jailed for three days after being unable to pay a fine related to catching a small mouth bass; a homeless man who served a year in jail and was fined more than $2,600 for stealing a $2 can of beer; and a recovering drug αddict who wound up in jail on three separate occasions simply for not being able to make scheduled payments on a nearly $10,000 court costs bill.

In a country where the existence of debtors’ prisons are supposed to be illegal, it sure seems that poor people are not getting the protection they deserve.
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Imprisoning people for an unpaid debt has been illegal in the United States since the 1830s, and a 30-year-old Supreme Court decision requires judges to determine if a person is able to pay fines before they place them in jail for them.  States across the country are breaking these laws, and it is time that we stand up to these injustices.

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