Victory for campaigners as 67-year-old inmate finally released after 20 years in prison for stealing two shirts under Louisiana’s three-strike law
- Guy Frank, 67, was arrested in 2000 for stealing two shirts from Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans
- He was sentenced to 23 years in prison because the theft was his fourth felony conviction
- In 2010, his crime – theft of less than $ 500 – was downgraded to a felony
- His release on Thursday came after campaigning on his behalf by The Innocence Project New Orleans
A Louisiana man has been released after serving 20 years in prison for stealing two shirts.
Guy Frank, 67, was released on Thursday after The Innocence Project New Orleans became involved in his case through the Unjust Punishment Project, which “seeks to free people serving life or equivalent sentences for non-violent crimes.”
Frank received a long sentence after he was arrested in September 2000, in part because the crime – theft of less than $ 500 – was a felony at the time. It has been classified as a crime since 2010.
The other reason can be traced back to Louisiana’s controversial laws, known as three-strike laws, that allow prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for suspects with previous convictions.
Before he stole the shirts from Saks Fifth Avenue in New Orleans, Frank had been arrested 36 times and convicted of at least three felonies.
Guy Frank, 67, was released on Thursday after 20 years in prison for stealing two shirts
The three-strikes laws have come under scrutiny as they contributed to mass incarceration and exacerbated racial inequality in Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate of any US state.
His case shows how poor black people are disproportionately affected by these extreme punishments. It’s hard to imagine a white person with resources getting this punishment for this crime, ”the Innocence Project New Orleans said in a statement.
The laws for frequent offenders have also been criticized for focusing solely on punishment, rather than rehabilitation or crime prevention.
Major legislation removed some provisions of the habitual offender laws in 2017, but major racial disparities persist in Louisiana criminal law.
Black people make up about a third of the state population, but nearly three quarters of all state prisoners serving life sentences, The Washington Post reported.
Frank, a waiter struggling with drug addiction, had been arrested 36 times as of 1975, according to a 2002 state court ruling.
He was convicted multiple times for theft and cocaine possession. According to The Innocence Project New Orleans, he never committed a violent crime.
In the 1990s, he served a three-year sentence, although it is not clear what the charges were in that case, The Post reported.
His October 2000 conviction for the theft of the shirts was his fourth felony, meaning the court sentenced him to 23 years in prison.
“He received this blatant punishment despite the fact that he was never a threat to anyone,” The Innocence Project New Orleans said in a statement.
Frank was given a long sentence after he was arrested in September 2000, in part because the felony – theft of less than $ 500 – was a felony at the time. It has been classified as a crime since 2010. The other reason can be traced back to Louisiana’s controversial frequent offender laws – known as three-strikes laws – that allow prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for suspects with previous convictions.
After becoming involved in Frank’s case, the group contacted the office of Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Rogers Williams, The Washington Post reported.
Williams, a former city councilor seen as a “ progressive prosecutor, ” was first elected last fall.
According to the Post, he appears to have cut the last three years of Frank’s tenure.
Williams has not commented on Frank’s release.
During his incarceration, Frank’s wife, son, mother and two of his brothers died, according to one GoFundMe page set up to support him upon release.
As of Tuesday morning, the page had fetched $ 70,555, surpassing the $ 50,000 goal.
Frank “dreams of becoming an assistant deacon, helping and advising others who are struggling,” the page said.