Thursday, June 26, 2014



Are debtor prisons back in America? (photo: Wikipedia)
Are debtor prisons back in America? (photo: Wikipedia)

Impoverished Mother Dies in Jail Cell Over Unpaid Fines for Her Kids Missing School

By Alan Pyke, ThinkProgress
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.


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+75# Milarepa 2014-06-13 07:37
This reflects the overall attitude of those in power: rip off the poor and low-income people whenever and wherever you can.
-101# bmiluski 2014-06-13 08:10
No I don't think you're right Milarepa. This is a case someone who refused to help herself. All she had to do was produce something that would prove she couldn't Pay her bills. District Judge Wally Scott cleared all her cases last year.
So to state that " This reflects the overall attitude of those in power: rip off the poor and low-income people whenever and wherever you can." is somewhat disingenious.
+61# Lolanne 2014-06-13 08:28
Quoting bmiluski:
No I don't think you're right Milarepa. ....
So to state that " This reflects the overall attitude of those in power: rip off the poor and low-income people whenever and wherever you can." is somewhat disingenious.

But, bmiluski, it certainly does reflect the stupid policies those in power enact, so many of which have such disastrous effects on the poor. You and Milarepa both get green thumbs from me...While the politicians who enact the policies may not be thinking specifically of ways to rip off the poor, their attitudes indicate they don't think of them at all! Their basic attitudes (which in some may not even be conscious) prioritize protecting the folks at the top (keeping tax breaks in place, ensuring they are not prosecuted for white collar crimes, etc.) at all costs, while enacting policies like jailing people for being poor. Back to debtors' prison in today's world? Please! How regressive can we get?
The facts as presented in this piece are that this woman was trying to raise 7 children while living in poverty. As the old saying goes, you can't get blood out of a turnip! What on earth good does it do to throw people in jail because they're too poor to pay something? They're still poor when they get out -- IF they get out. In this case, we now have 7 motherless children. Besides being inhumane, it simply makes no sense!
+23# Firefox11 2014-06-14 09:59
Quoting Lolanne:
[quote n]

In this case, we now have 7 motherless children. Besides being inhumane, it simply makes no sense!

Totally correct; makes no sense but so much of what is going on in this country makes no sense these days. How about the President announcing that the U.S. just has to go back into Iraq. While he did not create that mess personally, when you have a one billion dollar embassy in Baghdad, how serious is the U.S. about leaving a country that it had absolutely no business invading in the first place. Shame on you Colin Powell for failing to speak out against that illegal war.
+57# Pikewich 2014-06-13 13:46
I would think the fact she was on welfare and homeless should have been enough to wipe her slate clean.

And considering the large numbers of banksters who should be in jail, I am inclined to agree with Milarepa.
+39# lorenbliss 2014-06-13 17:42
I too agree with Milarepa, for what this Dickensian tragedy tells us is that in the merciless new world of the former United States -- a realm transmogrified into the de facto Fourth Reich -- any one of us who is not part of the Ruling Class could suffer the fate of Eileen DeNino 

Indeed the death of Eileen DeNino – and the deaths of so many others like her, always from the denial of basic human needs that now under the savagery of Ayn Rand economics have become privileges of wealth – makes me think perhaps the Hans Christian Anderson story of the “Little Match Girl” is replacing the Horatio Alger tales as the epic that properly symbolizes our present and future. (Indeed, recast in a 21st Century setting by cinematographer Filip Matevski's 12-minute film, it becomes just that.) 

Apropos which, perhaps bmiluski would say the Match Girl too "refused to help herself" when, as in Matevski's work, the child chose to spend the night in the freezing cold rather than submit to sexual abuse, or – as in the older versions of the story – refused to go home to be beaten by her father.

Meanwhile let us all mourn Eileen DeNino, a mother dead in debtor's prison, another victim of capitalism's New World Order.