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The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), founded in 1953, is a special interest group that lobbies in Sacramento and influences California’s criminal justice policymaking. PORAC’s positions promoting incarceration and harsh sentencing goes against mainstream criminal justice policy — including mainstream conservatism. 

A new CJCJ publication, Promoting the get tough” crime control agenda: The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), reviewed PORAC’s historic criminal justice lobbying activities and found that PORAC pursues policies that are not congruent with the interests of public safety, fiscal efficiency, or criminal justice best practices and in fact have contributed to the current prison crisis in California. 

In March 2004, Governor Schwarzenegger called for an independent review of California’s prisons, headed by former governor Deukmeijan. The report resulting from this commissioned review, the independent Little Hoover Commission reports, and various other independent policy analysts found that California’s correctional system has little accountability, no uniformity and no transparency.” The review recommended reforms at all levels of the correctional system structure and operations. Meanwhile PORAC has opposed reform legislation intended to carry out these recommendations, and supported legislation that runs entirely counter to these efforts. 

PORAC has carved out positions that are perceived to be for the sole benefit of their members while ignoring accepted criminal justice best practices that have been endorsed even by conservative groups. For example, conservative interest groups such as the Texas Public Policy group have spoken out in favor of reducing prison populations and rejecting harsher sentencing. In addition, the conservative Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institution, and Cato Institute have all made recommendations for sentencing and corrections reform, recognizing the need for a change in their traditional approaches to criminal justice. 

CJCJ’s review of PORAC’s lobbying efforts in California concludes by noting that despite PORAC’s radical criminal justice policy agenda, 

PORAC is a powerful lobbying organization in California because it invests significant money into developing relationships with key policymakers and makes large contributions to ballot measure committees. In addition it also engages in independent spending to bolster its policy recommendations and gain favor with state candidates. If California wishes to pursue a humane and efficient criminal justice system it should remember that PORAC’s lobbying agenda is not always congruent with this goal.” 

PORAC remains an outlier in criminal justice policy despite the movement of other advocacy groups, both liberal and conservative, towards a mainstream reform agenda that focuses on data-driven best practices. It’s influence in California’s legislature should be addressed in order to pursue this more appropriate approach to criminal and juvenile justice. 

You can read the full CJCJ report here.