California has 26,000 inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. Until recently, that possibility was a slim one; “lifers,” who are mostly murderers, rarely got out of prison. NPR reports that is changing. Since 2009, more than twice as many lifers have been paroled in California than in the previous two decades combined.
The shift in parole policy comes as the state is under orders from the U.S. Supreme Court to relieve prison overcrowding. State officials insist the rising number of lifers being paroled is due to the confluence of several other factors, including a 2008 state Supreme Court ruling that made it harder to deny parole to inmates who are no longer considered dangerous. Since that ruling, parole boards have recommended release at a much higher rate than in previous years, and Gov. Jerry Brown is blocking fewer paroles than his predecessors.