An Alabama man who served 36 years of a life sentence for stealing approximately $50 from a bakery when he was 22 years old will be released from prison within the next few days. The case is a stark reminder of how little mercy is permitted under "three strikes" laws, which have seen people sentenced to die in prison for petty crimes.
In 1983, Alvin Kennard robbed Highlands Bakery of $50.75. The following year, because Kennard had three previous offenses, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole under the state's Habitual Felony Offender Act. (Though it is called a "three strikes" ordinance, the Alabama law actually kicks in on offense number 4.) The judge had no choice in the sentencing.
For those punished under the ordinance, Alabama's statute now leaves room for parole. The change did not apply retroactively, though, so Kennard, now 58, was not automatically put before a review board. His attorney, Carla Crowder, tells ABC News that Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff Circuit Judge David Carpenter did so on his own accord after becoming aware of the case and its disproportionate sentence.
"As incredible as this opportunity is for Mr. Kennard and as happy as we are for him, we know that there are hundreds of similarly situated incarcerated people in the state who don't have attorneys, who don't have a voice," Crowder told the outlet, noting that 250 prisoners in the state met with a similar sentencing fate, but have not been granted mercy.
Different versions of "three strikes" laws exist in several states across the country, as well as federally, in what's known as an 851 notice. The latter has seen about 800 inmates sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if they have three prior drug offenses. After prosecutors filed such a notice against Chris Young in 2014, the Tennessee man, then 26, was sentenced to a life in federal prison for a drug-related crime.