WASHINGTON (ABC4 News) – 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.

Now the study’s authors hope it will lead to more chances for older inmates to be released from prison.

The average age of these inmates is about 65 years old. They served on average about 40 years behind bars. Now that they’ve been out for about five 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 strategy for change.

“I got life plus 18 years,” said Mitchell, a former prisoner.

In 1978, Mitchell was convicted of being the getaway driver in a home break-in that turned deadly — a crime Mitchell says 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,” said Mitchell.

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 Marc Schindler, JPI executive director.

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

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

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

But the bill faces opposition from tough on crime lawmakers 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.

Among the most vocal critics of the criminal justice reform package is Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, but prosecutors and some law enforcement organizations have also voiced concern.