Thursday, June 26, 2014
13 June 14
mother of seven died in a Pennsylvania jail over the weekend while serving a two-day sentence. Eileen DeNino, 55, was put in the cell where she died because she could not pay thousands of dollars in fines relating to her children’s truancy from schools in the Reading, PA area.
The cause of DeNino’s death is not yet known, but investigators “found no evidence that the death was suspicious,” according to the Eagle. She was reportedly on medication for high blood pressure and other health issues. “Prison officials said they issued no medication to DeNino before her death,” however.
DeNino had been cited 55 times since 1999, according to the Reading Eagle. On top of the individual fines for truancy, the Pennsylvania courts applied a variety of fees that amplified DeNino’s debt. “DiNino’s 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,” the Associated Press writes.
The two judges who preside over truancy cases in the county where the DeNinos live expressed regret and frustration over DeNino’s death. “She didn’t have a job. She was living in a house owned by a family member. She was on welfare. We sat and talked for a long time in my office and I could see that she couldn’t pay the fines,” Reading District Judge Wally Scott told the Eagle. “I cleared all her cases last year.”
District Judge Dean R. Patton sentenced DeNino to 48 hours in jail after she failed to produce documentary evidence of her inability to pay the more than $2,000 in accrued fines and fees. The sentence could have been as long as 45 days of jail time. “I bent over backwards for this woman,” Patton told the Eagle, “but I can’t just dismiss her cases without justification.”
Thousands of people have been jailed over truancy fines in the county since 2000, and two in three of those jailed have been women, according to the AP. But the criminalization of poverty is a much broader national phenomenon, with court costs and fees magnifying the statutory penalties for a variety of minor infractions such that the financial penalty snowballs into an unpayable debt for low-income people.
The results, as catalogued in a year-long National Public Radio investigation, are staggering: a 19-year-old jailed for three days after catching a smallmouth bass during rock bass season, because he couldn’t pay the fine; a homeless man sentenced to a year in jail over $2,600 in penalties incurred by shoplifting a $2 can of beer; a recovering drug user sent to jail three times for being unable to make payments on nearly $10,000 in court costs.
Criminal justice reform advocates and civil rights groups say these practices amount to a revival of the sort of “debtor’s prisons” that are supposed to be a relic of Colonial-era history. At the federal level, jailing someone for unpaid debt has been illegal since the 1830s. A Supreme Court decision 30 years ago reaffirmed that judges must determine that an offender is able to pay overdue fines before jailing her, but some states appear to be breaking with that requirement.
READER SUPPORTED NEWS
The US Has the Most Expensive and Least Effective Health Care in the Developed World
By Tara Culp-Ressler, ThinkProgress
17 June 14
or the fifth time in a row, the United States has been ranked last in a prominent think tank’s review of industrialized nation’s health care systems. Compared to other wealthy countries like Germany, France, Switzerland, and Australia, the U.S. lags far behind when it comes to ensuring health care access, efficiency, and equity:
Among the nations included in the Commonwealth Fund’s survey, the highest percentage of U.S. residents skip out on the medical care they need because they can’t afford it. Thirty-seven percentof Americans said they didn’t fill a prescription, visit a doctor, or seek out recommended medical care because they were worried about the cost; on the other end of the spectrum, just four percent of United Kingdom residents reported skimping on that care for the same concerns. That’s largely because the United States is the only country on the list that doesn’t offer universal health care, leaving a proportion of its population uninsured and unable to pay for medical services out of pocket.
The new report falls in line with previous research that has found Americans pay much more for their health care than the residents in other wealthy nations, even though those high price tags don’t necessarily correlate to better care. And the authors note that while other industrialized nations have enacted policy reforms to nudge their health systems in the right direction, the United States hasn’t significantly improved in these areas over the past decade.
However, the data that contributes to Commonwealth Fund’s survey was collected before Obamacare officially took effect. The authors point out that the “historic legislation” represents an “important first step” to fixing some of the United States’ persistent issues with high costs and lack of access to insurance. The health reform law hopes to expand insurance coverage to millions of Americans who have been locked out of the health care system, and that could finally improve the U.S.’s rankings in areas like access and equity.
But there are still some gaps. Thanks to GOP lawmakers’ resistance to Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion, which would extend public insurance to additional struggling Americans, about six million of the country’s poorest residents are still left with no access to affordable health care whatsoever.
“The claim that the United States has ‘the best health care system in the world’ is clearly not true,” the report authors conclude. “To reduce cost and improve outcomes, the U.S. must adopt and adapt lessons from effective health care systems both at home and around the world.”