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Study shows elderly inmates not safety risk despite violent past

This piece originally appeared on KCAU 9 News.

Elderly inmates may be released with minimal threat to society, study finds

WASHINGTON, D.C. - A 2012 decision by the Maryland Supreme Court resulted in the release of nearly 200 inmates sentenced for rape and murder convictions before 1981. Since their release, a new study shows they haven't been a safety risk despite their violent past. 

The study's authors hope it will lead to more chances for older inmates to be released from prison

The average age of the inmates is about 65 years old. They served on average about 40 years behind bars. Now that they've been out for about 5 years, advocates say they are proof that you can age out of crime. 

Stanley Mitchell, 70, has a new life. He's an advocate for criminal justice reform and works with troubled youth. Every week in Washington, he meets with other advocates to talk about his experience behind bars and a strategy for change. 

In 1978, Mitchell was convicted of being the getaway driver in a home break-in that turned deadly, a crime Mitchell said he did not commit. Never the less, he languished in prison for decades.

"It's like you're in a deep hole and you can't see no light," Mitchell said. 

After serving 35 years, Mitchell was released along with 200 other older inmates. Maryland's highest court ruled that jury instructions in rape and murder cases prior to 1981 were unconstitutional. 

Five years later, the Justice Policy Institute is out with a new study following the inmates since their release. 

"No significant impact or negative impact on public safety. A great amount of savings for Maryland taxpayers," said Executive Director Marc Schindler of Justice Policy Institute. 

Of the 188 inmates release, only five returned to prison, saving $185 million tax dollars. Schindler wants to apply the lesson nationwide. 

"We can safely think about ways that we can have them back in our communities," Schindler said. 

A bipartisan criminal justice reform package is working its way through Congress. It allows more elderly and terminally ill inmates to apply for release. 

The bill faces opposition from tough-on-crime lawmakers though and could get caught up in Congressional gridlock. 

Now 70 years old, Stanley Mitchell is looking out at a new future. He hopes change allows others like him to live their final years outside the walls of prison. 

This piece originally appeared on KCAU 9 News.



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