Coroner issues ruling in death of woman jailed in child truant case

Eileen Dinino died of natural causes inside Berks County Jail, coroner says

Coroner rules in death of woman jailed in child truant case

BERN TWP., Pa. - The Berks County coroner has concluded his investigation of a female inmate's death in the Berks County Jail.

Eileen Dinino died of natural causes, the result of hypertensive cardiovascular disease, while incarcerated at the jail on June 7, Dennis Hess, the coroner, announced Thursday.

Pulmonary edema due to cardiac failure was a contributing condition, said Hess, who added that results of toxicology tests were negative.

Dinino, 55, of Reading, died approximately 24 hours into a 48-hour sentence she was ordered by Berks County District Justice Dean Patton to serve for failing to pay more than $2,000 in fines for her children's multiple truancy violations.

Her cell mate, Nicole Lord, spoke out to 69 News on Aug. 2, claiming the jail failed to provide the proper care for Dinino after she alerted a corrections officer and a nurse to not feeling well.

"That was full neglect to me," Lord said.

The jail never responded to the allegations.

Publicity surrounding Dinino's death has also prompted concerns among government leaders about her being in jail in the first place.

"I find it absolutely egregious that... we're putting a mother behind bars because her children chose not to attend school," Christian Leinbach, chairman of the Berks County Board of Commissioners, who also serves as a member of the Berks County Prison Board, told 69 News in June.

Leinbach said he has contacted the county's president judge and asked that the case be looked at from the court's perspective.

State Representative Mark Gillen, a Republican, and Representative Tom Caltagirone, a Democrat, have also introduced "Eileen's Law," saying the legislation, if passed, would change the way people are penalized in truancy cases.

"Prisons were meant for hardcore criminals, not mothers with kids that don't want to go to school," said Caltagirone.

The lawmakers said "Eileen's Law" would let judges sentence violators to parenting training or community service instead of jail.

State Senator Judy Schwank, a Berks County Democrat, and Senator Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican, have also proposed changes to the state's truancy laws.

They are seeking to eliminate the current requirement that a person serve up to five days in jail for not paying truancy fines.

Instead, school districts would be required to set up individualized truancy elimination plans (TEPs), to identify and deal with truancy cases before they must be referred to courts or juvenile authorities.

"Imprisonment does not solve the problem of truancy, and tragedies such as this are completely avoidable," said Greenleaf, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

State police are continuing their investigation of Dinino's death.

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