Woman Dies in Jail Because She Failed to Pay a Fine—For Her Child's Truancy From School


Some monstrous policy out of Pennsylvania, from Associated Press via the Pottstown Mercury News, a land where there is no such thing as debtors prison for the poor unless that debt is to the government, that institution that only monsters question because after all it's there to help the poor:

Hundreds of parents, some impoverished and overwhelmed, have been jailed in Pennsylvania for failing to pay court fines that arise from truancy hearings after their children skip school, creating what some call a "debtor's prison" for people like Eileen DiNino.

DiNino, 55, of Reading, was found dead in a jail cell Saturday morning, hours after she surrendered to serve a 48-hour sentence.

She had racked up $2,000 in fines, fees and court costs since 1999 as the Reading School District tried to keep her children in class, most recently at a vocational high school.

Died alone in prison. Over truancy.

More than 1,600 people have been jailed in Berks County alone — where Reading is the county seat—over truancy fines since 2000, more than two-thirds of them women, the newspaper reported….

Language barriers can also be an issue for letters and phone calls between the parents and school, given that the vast majority of the city and school population is Hispanic, Guida said.

…the fines handed down by judges were typically small, perhaps $20. The debt adds up, he said, over court costs and fees. In one case alone involving DiNino, her bill included a laundry list of routine fees: $8 for a "judicial computer project"; $60 for Berks constables; $40 for "summary costs" for several court offices; and $10 for postage.

As I wrote about back in January in "Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor" and again last month, focusing specifically on the whole "multiplying court fees" matter that helped Ms. DiNino die in a cell, some of the pettiest fines when it comes to traffic and the like can really end up screwing up citizens lives in ways far more serious than the initial offense. (Not to mention the stickier question of the ethical status of an entity that makes sure it gets its pound of flesh from any debtor by literally locking them up as punishment for not paying off.)

It's not a topic that political scientists and sociologists have gathered a lot of data on, as near as I've been able to tell, but let's add this set of anecdotes from Pennsylvania to "the state will behave with monstrous lack of mercy to the least well-off among us."

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    1. If inly we lived a society that's moral enough not to accept the status quo of politically compelled schooling.

  2. Died alone in prison. Over truancy.

    It's the price we pay for civilization.

  3. The bigger a government gets, the more it steamrollers over anyone not connected or wealthy enough to not get ground up in the gears. And our government is fucking monstrously huge. Shit like this will just happen more often and get worse. It's an inevitable development of government.

    1. Y'know what else is inevitable?


      We aren't getting there as fast, but not for lack of govt trying.

      1. yeah, but when we finally get there will it just be Occupy-ish 20 somethings demanding Maor free stuff, or will it be people who actually want a limited government?

        1. It's moar! Is it that you can't spell or won't tow the lion?

    2. It's just collateral damage. Never.mind that the damage.is.done in support of.an immoral cause.

      Buttle, Tuttle, whatevs.

  4. The kids who now have to grow up without a mother will face some serious interest and late fees when they turn 18.

    1. You don't think the father will take care of it? /sarcasm

      I suspect the "more than two-thirds of them women" is largely due to single motherhood.

      1. Amazing. You've taken a pointless death and managed to make it into not one but two KULTUR WAR bullshit issues, single motherhood and immigration. Fight that KULTUR WAR! Because that's what matters! Disgusting.

        1. Calm down. I'm just noticing. As for them being "bullshit issues," the facts seem to disagree.

        2. Justify your suspicions with numbers, or STFU.

          1. My 6:08 was directed at Papaya

          2. The correlation of single-motherhood with poverty is well-known. And why do I need numbers to point out that immigration might have something to do with a school district that has problems communicating with non-English speakers? It seems obvious that people who cannot speak English were not born here, or (at best) had parents who were not born here.

            I know that free movement is libertarian principle, but don't let ideology blind you to what's right in front of your eyes.

            1. Free movement of people in the sense that annyone can move-in on someone else isn't a libertarian principle.

              "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

    2. Obviously the kids are better off now.

  5. This is an awful policy, but I can't ignore this:

    Language barriers can also be an issue for letters and phone calls between the parents and school, given that the vast majority of the city and school population is Hispanic

    Yet another downside to mass immigration.

    1. Sounds like a downside to public schools to me.

      1. *nods in agreement*

      2. That, too.

    2. Yeah, Reading is pretty awful. On the other hand, the massive brawls on Penn Street when school lets out are sort of fun to watch.

      1. Haha, no doubt man. Reading is the only city in Central PA that manages to out-shit Harrisburg.

        The only thing good to come out of that city is Jonathon Quick, who is a Reading Royals alumni.

    3. Except most of the hispanics in Reading are Puerto Rican, so they aren't actually immigrants. But you know, don't let that stop you from getting your "we hate foreignors" on.

      1. If they don't speak English, and apparently most Puerto Ricans don't, then my point still stands, whether they are "actually immigrants" or not.

      2. So, it's a failure of colonialism. Why are libertarians in favor of colonies? Shouldn't we be granting the poor Puerto Ricans independence by now?

        1. I would cut Puerto Rico loose, yes.

      3. Isn't our finest accomplishment here at H&R, hatin on fureners?

        Really, we hate all fureners, but we especially hate Canadians, they're the worst!

        1. Not wanting millions of poor, non-English-speaking foreigners to move here is not the same as "hating" them. I wish them all well in their home countries.

          1. Puerto Ricans aren't foreigners, they're US citizens. Just because you get the vapors at the thought of poor minorities having the same rights as everyone else doesn't justify the ethnic apartheid you apparently want to institute.

            1. Way to leap to conclusions and whack that straw man, Stormy.

        2. Don't be hatin on those Canadians. They got the same problem with Frenchies.

          1. The correct term is frogs.

            1. I'll make a note of it. My secret decoder ring is on the fritz.

    4. My great aunt never bothered to learn English. She moved then, and then went to an ethnic community where she never bothered to learn English. Her sisters thought she was silly for not not wanting to learn English.

      Oh, guess what? I'm not Latino! I'm not browned skinned! My great aunt was whiter than Wonder Bread, she was Danish.

      She never learned English... and yet our civilization is intact. So go suck it.

  6. This is all Rethuglican lies from Drudge! The government is the great salvation of the little people!

    /The Proglodytes

    1. We just gave them more money and made them boarding schools then we would have no problems.

      1. *If* we gave them..

  7. "Prison Warden Janine Quigley referred the newspaper's call to Berks County Commissioner Kevin R. Barnhardt, chairman of the county prison board.

    "This woman died in prison, away from her family, and for what?" Barnhardt said. "What did she learn from this? What did we learn from this?"

    At the very least, he's pretending to be pissed off. So at least he recognizes that people think this is outrageous. Assuming, of course, that his questions are rhetorical.

  8. OT and from Jezzie but it's worth a giggle


    1. Crystal Metheny. Holy sheet, now we know why she shot a missle into a car. There's only so much taunting a person can take before they snap.

  9. "Let's see, how can I skip school and get my mother off my back?"

    1. Schools out for ever...

  10. If you need a real-life example of how support for any law, any regulation, means that you are calling for the state to arrest, jail, and (if "necessary") assault and kill people who don't comply, this should do it.

    Think 16 oz sodas should be illegal? Then you think the state should arrest, jail, etc. anyone with a 20 ozer.

    Oh, but its just "civil"? Yeah, well, so are these truancy fines.

    1. +1000. Absolutely THIS. IT all flows in this direction. ALWAYS.

    2. Technically, it becomes contempt of court for failure to comply. But I feel you.

      But this is really the kicker. She "owed" the community $2,000 in fines, and when she didn't pay, they locked her up where it cost taxpayers money to house her in, probably, a maximum security jail. If one argues that she owes a debt to society, then shouldn't she actually do something that "serves" society, like picking up trash on the side of the road?

      1. Yeah, I'm sure a little forced labor would've done her some good.

      2. it becomes contempt of court for failure to comply

        I don't think anyone who is looking at this honestly could say that she wasn't jailed for a "civil" offense. Its like saying that falling from a 10 story building won't kill you, because its the landing, not the fall, that does the damage.

  11. This is in my neck of the woods. My step mom works for the Reading school district. It is a tremendous pile of shit but this is a whole new level.

    By the way, to all of you pronouncing Reading wrong in your head, stop it. It's pronounced "Redding".

    1. Why not call it Writing and end the confusion?

      1. I was pronouncing it "Craphole".

      2. It's spelt Raymond Luxury Yacht but it's pronounced Throatwobbler Mangrove

  12. How did she die? Was she murdered? Did she have a heart attack? Did she slip and fall in the shower?

    1. Yeah, that's the bit that would attract my att'n: that a 55 YO suddenly died of unknown cause?not where she was when she died, or why she was there.

  13. Protect and serve...

    The government.

  14. I just heard about this policy a few months ago from some Pennsyltuckians i work with. Absolutely insane to connect school policy with the criminal justice system. It's not just truancy. The parents get fined for all sorts of infractions. My co-worker had to pay for his son having chewing tobacco in school. And there were threats of fines over not properly informing the school the kid wouldn't be there that day.

    You fine people for this type of shit and they're one clerical error from jail. A good friend ended up with Maryland State Troopers coming to his house because a cop writing a drinking citation put the wrong city in the address. No ticket showed up, no court summons because the fine hadn't been payed. He had no idea he was in trouble. Funny enough the cops found where he lived though...hmmm. Anyway, he still spent the day locked up with a hillbilly guy who tortured animals and had to face court for it. Should have sued.

  15. Apparently they won't take care of you in prison until the "Not Letting You Die" fee is added onto the other court costs imposed.

  16. And the poor get thrown in jail because they don't pay the fine for driving without insurance, which they would have if they weren't poor. The poor get thrown in jail for not paying child support, which they would pay if they weren't poor. ETC, ad naseum.
    The poor get thrown in jail because the people who make and enforce the laws believe, deep in their heart, that if you are poor it is because of a moral failing, and that if they just punish you enough you will learn your lesson, and stop being so goddamned poor.

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