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For decades, California’s criminal justice policies ensured that murderers and others sentenced to life, with the possibility of parole, could expect to die in prison. And most of the time, they did. Since Gov. Jerry Brown assumed office in January 2011, a record number of inmates with life sentences are winning parole. Brown has allowed the release of nearly 1,400 lifers, while going along with the parole board about 82 percent of the time. Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, authorized the release of 557 lifers during his six-year term, sustaining the board at a 27 percent clip. Before that, Gov. Gray Davis over 3 years approved the release of two. This dramatic shift in releases under Brown comes as the state grapples with court orders to ease a decades-long prison crowding crisis that has seen triple bunking, prison gyms turned into dormitories and inmates shipped out of state.

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