Under the current law, parents of children who are chronically absent from school are subject to fines. If they can’t pay those fines, then they face jail time. State Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks, Lancaster) said he is trying to change the current statute from a “shall” provision because parents don’t belong in prison.
“We think that it needs to be changed to a 'may' provision,” said Gillen. “We’ve got 50,000 inmates in the Pennsylvania prison system. Currently we’re exceeding our capacity by 3,800 inmates.”
Gillen said there are about 6,026 parents in jails under the law. Changing it would allow judges flexibility in sentencing parents of truants, opening options such as community service. Gillen said the majority of parents who’ve been affected by the law are single mothers who are struggling.
“So these single gals are financially unable to pay, jail is not a reasonable consequence for them,” he said.
The bill is named “Eileen’s Law” after a woman in Berks County who was jailed in June 2014 for failure to pay truancy fines. The mother of seven children died while serving a two-day sentence for failure to pay $2,000 in fines. Gillen said keeping parents out of jail will not only benefit them, but also the student.
“I would prefer the kids be in school of course, we want to place and emphasis on that, and moms are not in jail,” he said. “Under the current system, when you incarcerate that single mom, it actually gives more freedom to the truant.”
The measure passed the House Education Committee unanimously and is awaiting consideration by the full House.