John Rodriguez, 94, is the oldest inmate in the California prison system. Rodriguez murdered his wife during a drunken rage in 1981, says the Los Angeles Times. He has spent most of his time since then behind bars. He’s been recommended for parole six times, all of which have been rejected by the last three governors, who characterized him as a threat to society. Since 1988, when voters gave the governor the power to overrule parole board recommendations for “lifers,” the number from that category who have been freed has slowed to a trickle. Gov. Gray Davis released six lifers during his five-year tenure. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s numbers are higher but dropping steadily. In 2004, he released 72 lifers, but only 23 last year.
In today’s era of stiffer sentences, politicians are less likely to let convicted murderers go free. Pressure to release the elderly and infirm is increasing, given the state’s overflowing prisons. In Sacramento recently, demonstrators urged lawmakers to start thinning the inmate population by releasing geriatric and incapacitated prisoners such as Rodriguez. Don Specter of the nonprofit Prison Law Office, said the Rodriguez case “shows how irrational the parole process is. The law says you should pay a price for this kind of crime, but not your whole life. The question becomes, what does the state gain by keeping this man in prison?”