A mother of seven children who was sentenced to 48 hours in jail for her children’s excessive truancy violations died during her sentence last weekend.
Eileen Dinino, 55, died on Saturday in a cell at the Berks County Jail in Reading, Pa., reports local television station WFMZ.
She died one day into her two-day sentence.
Initial autopsy reports indicate that the cause of death was natural. However, the coroner is still waiting for toxicology tests to come back.
The number of truancy violations charged to Dinino because her kids played hooky was coincidentally the same as her age: 55. They had been accumulating since 1999.
Under Pennsylvania law, parents can go to jail for five days for every single time their kids have an unexcused school absence.
Dinino had the option to pay $2,000 in fines but she couldn’t afford it, reports The Washington Post.
The sentencing judge, Dean R. Patton, said he sentenced the mother to jail reluctantly. He later criticized the sentencing guidelines he said he was required to follow.
“This lady didn’t need to be there,” Patton said, according to the Post. “We don’t do debtors prisons anymore. That went out 100 years ago.”
Local politicians have also expressed outrage about Dinino’s death.
“I have questions as well as what happened to the woman in prison,” Democratic senator Judy Schwank told WFMZ. “How did it happen that she passed away? Did she need medical attention and not receive it?”
Berks County commissioner Christian Leinbach, a Republican, agreed with Schwank’s sentiment.
“That unfortunately is part of the law in Pennsylvania and I think it is insanity,” Leinbach told the station. “There has got to be a better way to deal with truancy than putting somebody in prison.”
Schwank proposed that perhaps community service might better than locking up parents as a way to deter truancy.
Leinbach would go further.
“I think there are better ways to deal with nonviolent crimes,” the Republican told WFMZ. “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 2000, according to the Associated Press, over 1,600 people have gone to jail in Berks County because of truancy violations and an inability to pay the resulting fines.