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California to begin early release of elderly, ill inmates

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SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA - DECEMBER 19: (Editorial Use Only)  Anthony Alvarez (R), age 82, waits in line for breakfast while being assisted by Phillip Burdick, a fellow prisoner and member of the Gold Coats program at California Men's Colony prison on December 19, 2013 in San Luis Obispo, California.  The Gold Coats program is a volunteer care program where healthy prisoners volunteer to take care of elderly prisoners who either need general assistance with mobility and every day life or who also struggle with Alzheimer's and dementia. The program, the first of it's kind in the country, has existed for approximately 25 years. According to Alvarez, he has been incarcerated for 42 years due to a series of burglaries, possession of illegal firearms and escapes from county jail. Eventually these convictions led to him getting a life sentence due to three-strike laws. "I never shot anyone," Alvarez said, "I had the chance but I could never shoot anyone." Today is Alvarez's first day being assisted by the Gold Coats; he largely needs help with mobility. Alvarez tries to work out for a few minutes every other day. He says he would like to apply for compassionate release, a program where prisoners are released from prison after being found no longer a threat to society, or if a doctor deems that they are within the last six months of their life. Phillip Burdick, age 62, has been volunteering with the Gold Coats for over 18 years - he is the longest serving member of the Gold Coats. Burdick, who says he became a Christian in prison over 30 years ago, has served 37 years on a 7-years-to-life sentence for first degree murder. "Being a Christian man, I know God has a plan for everything," Burdick says. When asked why he joined the Gold Coats he responds, "I was attracted to helping other less fortunate than myself - I can't imagine doing anything better in prison." He hopes to work in a similar line of work if he is released.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Anthony Alvarez (R), age 82, waits in line for breakfast while being assisted by Phillip Burdick, a fellow prisoner and member of the Gold Coats program at California Men's Colony prison on December 19, 2013 in San Luis Obispo, California. The Gold Coats program is a volunteer care program where healthy prisoners volunteer to take care of elderly prisoners who either need general assistance with mobility and every day life or who also struggle with Alzheimer's and dementia.

Elderly inmates in California prisons who meet new parole criteria may be released early, California parole officials announced this week.

California parole officials announced this week that the state is ready to begin the release of some elderly and frail inmates who meet new parole criteria. 

As a part of the state's court-mandated effort to reduce prison crowding, inmates who are over 60 and have spent at least 25 years in prison may now be eligible for early release. Prisoners with serious health conditions may also be eligible to be moved to health care facilities.

LA Times reporter Paige St. John joins Take Two for more on who qualifies and what this will mean for the bigger goal of prison population reduction in California.

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