HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Senate today took new steps toward reforming the commonwealth's bursting prison system by passing three bills that attempt to reduce the inmate population. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania said that the three bills are necessary reforms of the state's criminal justice system.

"Pennsylvania will bankrupt itself on corrections if something drastic isn't done," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "The Senate showed leadership today in tackling this problem."

The three bills, all introduced by Senator Stewart Greenleaf, would provide guidelines to judges to identify non-violent offenders who could benefit from alternative sentencing programs (SB 1145), allow the release of inmates who are nearing their minimum sentence and need to complete mandated programming (SB 1161), and allow alternatives to incarceration for persons on parole who commit technical parole violations but do not commit a new crime (SB 1275).

"This is sensible legislation that balances community safety and addresses the needs of inmates," Hoover said. "Warehousing people simply doesn't work and costs the taxpayers millions of dollars."

The commonwealth will build four new state prisons by 2013, at a total cost of more than $800 million in construction and $50 million each to maintain annually. The department of corrections estimates that those prisons will be filled to capacity soon after they open.

Senate Bills 1145, 1161, and 1275 now head to the House of Representatives for consideration.