That profound phrase “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court Building is without-a-doubt a social ideal that we as Americans would all like to believe exists within our country regardless of one’s race, gender or social standing.
However as we’ve come to learn, no penal system on earth regardless of how many safeguards we attempt is full proof.
Alvin Kennard who is now 58-years old has spent 36 years in an Alabama state prison for stealing back in 1984, $50.75 from a bakery.
The mind-numbing and egregious sentence is a product of the then archaic Alabama state law that mandated any individual with 4 convictions, regardless of the offense would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Back in 1979, Kennard was an 18-year-old kid, who pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree burglary in connection with a break-in at an unoccupied service station. All of the counts were tied to the one break-in, which upon conviction Kennard was sentenced to 3-years probation.
Fast forward to 1984, Kennard is now 22-years old, and comments another robbery inside a bakery with a pocket-knife, however no one is injured, however upon conviction, he learns about the 4-strike rule in Alabama, and that the sentencing judge has no other option than to sentence him to life in prison, without any hope of parole.
That awful law, dubbed the Habitual Felony Offender Act, was changed in early 2000. However it wasn’t retroactive, so it didn’t automatically prompt a re-sentencing in Kennard’s case, resulting in another 18 plus years in prison. Until the curiosity of a judge in 2018 led to the reopening of the case, which in turn led to a re-sentencing and ultimately a pardon.
“The judge, in this case, noticed how odd it seemed that someone was serving life without parole for a $50 robbery,” said Kennard’s attorney, Carla Crowder, who said it was Jefferson County Bessemer Cutoff Circuit Judge David Carpenter who saw Kennard’s case when some documents came across his desk.
“This was a judge that kind of went out of his way,” Crowder told ABC News.
A hearing was held on Wednesday, August 28th, 2019, where a judge reviewing the court documents ordered Kennard released from prison
Assistant District Attorney Bill North noted that Kennard was a model prisoner, which certainly played a factor in his release. With that information the judge moved swiftly to change Kennard’s sentence to time served, effectively prompting his release in the coming days.
Kennard attorney Carla Crowder acknowledges that there are upwards of 250 individuals currently locked up the Alabama prison system that shouldn’t be there because the law in 2000 changing sentencing guidelines wasn’t retroactive, and most of those individuals incarcerated simply don’t have attorney’s advocating on their behalf.
Alabama’s systemic failures go far beyond the obvious cruel and unusual punishment regarding the states 2000 sentencing guideline law, that didn’t adequately address the issue of men being incarcerated for life, for nothing more than committing petty crimes, because of the 4-conviction rule.
Perhaps it’s politics getting in the way of doing the right and moral thing, for individuals like Alvin Kennard.
A recent exposé uncovered the hellish world of Alabama’s state prison’s that has drawn the Department of Justice to investigate.
“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that Alabama fails to provide constitutionally adequate conditions and that prisoners experience serious harm, including deadly harm, as a result. The Justice Department hopes to work with Alabama to resolve the Department’s concerns,” Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said in a letter released Wednesday.
The investigation, dated April 2nd, said “the violations are severe, systemic, and exacerbated by serious deficiencies in staffing and supervision, overcrowding, ineffective housing, and classification protocols, inadequate incident reporting” among other factors.
“Our investigation revealed that an excessive amount of violence, sexual abuse, and prisoner deaths occur within Alabama’s prisons on a regular basis,” the report states.