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” 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
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
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.
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)
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)
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)
statute of limitations for voluntary and vehicular manslaughter.
SB 479 (Hollingsworth)
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
SB 501 (Hollingsworth)
sex offender registration be under penalty of perjury.
SB 591 (Cogdill)
the penalty for possession of methamphetamine from an alternate
misdemeanor/felony (wobbler) to a straight felony.
SB 612 (Simitian)
the jurisdiction of a criminal action involving identity theft to
include the county in which the victim resided at the time the offense
AB 426 (Galgiani)
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
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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