>> No prisoner dies alone. That's the motto at this hospice unit, part of the Vacaville Prison in California. And it's not just medical staff who are caring for the dying. Increasingly, fellow inmates, like 38 year old Fernando Merillo behind bars for second degree murder, are also tending to the sick in their final dies.
>> I am a lifer. I've been incarcerated since I was 16 years old. And one of the most horrifying things to me to think about is, dying in the prison. So when empathizing with any human being that I encounter coming into this doors, I know that they feel the same way.
>> California has more older prisoners than any other state and by 2030 it's projected that a third of all prisoners in the state will be over the age of 50. Reuter's photographer, Lucy Nicolson traveled to Vacaville and another facility in Stockton to learn about the challenges.>> California Health Care Facility which houses a large number of aging prisoners.
And the unit we're standing in at the moment is a housing unit that has a lot of prisoners who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's.>> Nationwide, states are grappling with similar challenges as prisoners age and the costs are mounting. According to a recent report by the State of Georgia, medical care for inmates over the age of 65 cost 8,500 per year compared to 950 for those who are younger.
Older inmate's needs have led California to build a large dialysis center, stock hundreds of wheelchairs, and offer assistance with hearing and declining vision. But with resources tight, more of the care is falling on fellow prisoners. Is the Vacaville barber in the hospice unit, and is serving a 21 year sentence for murdering a man when he was 17.
When Reuters spoke to him, he was mourning the recent loss of an inmate.>> I felt numb for a week or two, you know what I mean? But, most of the time we learn that death is a part of life.>> I guess lucky to have him.>> This guy's pretty good.