ROCA Policy Tough to Swallow, but Not Tough on Criminals 

Common sense, tough-on-crime legislation faced a difficult obstacle this year when the Democrat-controlled Senate Public Safety Committee announced a dramatic change to its review of legislation, called the Receivership Overcrowding Crisis Aggravation (ROCA) policy. 

Using prison overcrowding and the threat of judicially imposed oversight as an excuse for the new policy, dozens of bills that would help keep families safe were summarily killed for the year unless legislators provided “evidence-based data and analysis” that there would be no impact on prison bed space. Since arresting criminals and getting them off the street always has an impact on prisons, the committee’s ROCA policy meant only the most toothless of bills would pass. 

Ironically, in May the legislature and the governor agreed to AB 900 which will provide more than $7 billion dollars for the expansion of several existing prisons, eventually adding 53,000 new beds. Even so, Democrats insist that the overcrowding crisis has not been adequately dealt with and have held dozens of bills on the ROCA file.

The Prison Overcrowding Crisis

The “prison overcrowding crisis” was provoked by the state losing two judicial cases, Plata v. Schwarzenegger and Coleman v. Schwarzenegger.  Both lawsuits against the state alleged that prison overcrowding was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The decision in Plata v. Schwarzenegger put the prison medical care system in the hands of a federal receiver. The Coleman case, dating back to 1995, resulted in 77 substantive orders being issued in an effort to “fix” the mental health system in California prisons. 

AB 900 (Solorio, 2007) authorized the issuance of $7.4 billion in lease revenue bonds in two phases to support the construction of 53,000 new beds at existing prisons, re-entry centers, health care related facilities, and local jails. AB 900 passed both houses with bipartisan support and was signed by the Governor on May 3, 2007. In July, judges in both cases approved the appointment of a three-judge panel to determine if a population cap should be imposed to remedy issues resulting from overcrowding. 

Shortly after AB 900 was chaptered, 11 Senate Republicans sent a letter to the Public Safety Committee Chair insisting that the ROCA policy be lifted since the Legislature had addressed prison overcrowding concerns. Senate Republicans pointed out that the bills being held addressed several pressing issues such as “reducing gang activity, stopping the use of new technology to commit crimes, addressing newer identity theft crimes, closing the loopholes in sex offender registration, slowing methamphetamine use…and expanding the statute of limitations for some of the most heinous crimes--rape and vehicular manslaughter.” 

Unfortunately, Senate Democrats responded to the request by arguing that AB 900 fails to provide immediate relief to the overcrowding crisis. For these reasons, the committee continues to use the ROCA file and put off passage of critical public safety bills.

Does ROCA keep Californians safe?

The ROCA policy was put in place as a means of delaying the passage of any bill that has the potential of increasing either the state prison population or the local jail population. Many of the bills that have been held greatly affect public safety. ROCA gives criminals or would-be criminals at least a one year free pass – some of the most blatant examples include:

SB 256 (Alquist)
Removes the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes, including rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, oral copulation, continuous sexual abuse of a child, forcible acts of sexual penetration, and flight of a sex offender to avoid prosecution.

SB 368 (Harman)
Would criminalize the exchange of child pornography on peer-to-peer Internet programs like Kazaa and Livewire, making such an action a felony punishable up to six years.

SB 476 (Hollingsworth)
Extends the statute of limitations for voluntary and vehicular manslaughter.

SB 479 (Hollingsworth)
Provides sentence enhancements for a person who impersonates a peace officer during the commission of kidnapping or specified sex crimes and for peace officers who, in uniform and under color of law, commit those acts.

SB 501 (Hollingsworth)
Requires sex offender registration be under penalty of perjury.

SB 591 (Cogdill)
Increases the penalty for possession of methamphetamine from an alternate misdemeanor/felony (wobbler) to a straight felony.

SB 612 (Simitian)
Expands the jurisdiction of a criminal action involving identity theft to include the county in which the victim resided at the time the offense was committed. 

AB 426 (Galgiani)
Increases penalties on human trafficking, and solicitation to commit murder, and makes them both “strikes” under the Three Strikes law.  

The Senate Public Safety Committee’s ROCA policy helps place the public at risk, keeping penalties on criminals or would-be criminals lower than the public demands. Senate Democrats have chosen to hold bills that protect our identities, our children and the overall public safety. The ROCA policy is not in the public’s best interest and should be lifted as soon as possible.

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