HARRISBURG- The Pennsylvania Senate today passed legislation to allow persons convicted of summary offenses to have their criminal records expunged, legislation that the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania called "a weakened bill" from its original version.

"Pennsylvania taxpayers are about to get a $900 million tab to build three new state prisons," said Andy Hoover, Legislative Assistant for the ACLU of PA. "This bill should have included misdemeanors. We need to lift the roadblocks to allow former offenders to get back on their feet. Otherwise, we'll continue to build new prisons."

According to the Department of Corrections, approximately 16,000 people are released from state prison each year. The original version of Senate Bill 232 allowed those convicted of second- and third-degree misdemeanors to also have their records expunged, but the bill was amended before final passage.

A similar bill in the House of Representatives was reported out of the Judiciary Committee several weeks ago. House Bill 1543 allows those with a summary offense, third degree misdemeanor, or second degree misdemeanor to have their records expunged, with some restrictions.

"With overflowing prisons and crime on the rise, it's long past time for the General Assembly to get smart on crime," Hoover said. "The original version of SB 232 was smart on crime. The amended version is not."

On April 9, President Bush signed The Second Chance Act. This new law allows persons convicted of non-violent misdemeanors and felonies at the federal level to have their records expunged after a certain period of time and by meeting certain criteria. The law also increases federal funding for housing, employment, and the rebuilding of family and community ties for former offenders upon release. The bill passed Congress with nearly unanimous support.

"President Bush is willing to go further in helping former offenders than the Pennsylvania Senate," Hoover said.