Nearly 1,400 lifers have been released from California prisons over the past three years in a sharp turnaround in a state where murderers and others sentenced to life with the possibility of parole almost never got out, reports the Associated Press. Since taking office three years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown has affirmed 82 percent of parole board decisions, resulting in a record number of inmates with life sentences going free. Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, authorized release of 557 lifers during his six-year term, sustaining the board at a 27 percent clip. Before that, Gov. Gray Davis over three years approved the release of two.
This dramatic shift in releases comes as the state deals with court orders to ease a decades-long prison crowding crisis that has seen triple bunking, prison gyms used as dormitories and inmates shipped out of state. Crime victims and their advocates said the releases are an injustice to the victims and that the parolees could pose a danger to the public. More than 80 percent of lifers are in prison for murder, while the remaining are mostly rapists and kidnappers. “This is playing Russian roulette with public safety,” said Christine Ward of the Crime Victims Action Alliance. “This is a change of philosophy that can be dangerous.” The governor’s office said the overcrowding crisis plays no role in the parole decisions.