Nick Cassway: Portraits of Inmates in the Death Row Population Sentenced as Juveniles
Of the entire death row population in America, there are 82 individuals who were sentenced as juveniles. On October 21, 2002, the Supreme Court declined to review a 1989 Supreme Court case decision, Stanford v. Kentucky, which determined that placing juveniles on death row was not considered a cruel and unusual punishment. The court continues to condone the practice, sentencing individuals as young as 16, many with extremely limited mental capacity, to their death.
Portraits of Inmates in the Death Row Population Sentenced as Juveniles is an installation that depicts approximately half of the juveniles on death row today. The method of selecting the number of individuals represented in this series was determined by applying the same formula used to determine the number of congressional representatives from each state. The apportionment formula, called the method of equal proportions, is a mathematical equation used to derive equal representation, based upon population. Using this formula allows the juveniles across the death row population to be seen as a congress with a unanimous voice. The portraits are stenciled onto 24" x 36" steel plates using a clear rustproof paint. The painted areas will retain the color of the raw steel, a reference to materials of the prison environment. The unpainted areas will rust, alluding to the passage of time. The portraits line the 30 foot high perimeter wall outside of Cellblock 15, Eastern State’s "Death Row." Is execution of juveniles a necessary deterrent in order for the public to feel safe or merely a "relic of the past ... inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society*?" The descriptions of the crimes committed by these youth are gruesome and horrible, leading one to question the appropriate punishment of those that committed them. Equally appalling, however, is the fact that there are abhorrent miscarriages of justice. Many of these individuals have had little or no skilled legal representation. Should U.S. society be held accountable to definitions of law determining minors to be different from adults? Portraits of Inmates in the Death Row Population Sentenced as Juveniles is meant to draw attention to the many issues in this debate. Eastern State Penitentiary is an appropriate backdrop in which to reflect upon this important societal controversy. Printmaker Nick Cassway graduated with a BFA from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1990. Nick is very active in the Philadelphia arts community, he is a founding member and co-curator of Dissentia Curatorial Services, a nationally recognized curating team best known for staging art shows in unusual venues. He is also a member of Nexus, Philadelphia's oldest and most respected artist run gallery, he currently acts as artist member president. Nick's work has been consistently shown since the early 90's, most recently was "heads" an exhibition of experimental portraiture focusing on current events at Nexus in October of 2002. His work has toured the midwest and south with a group show entitled "Perfect Fit", which ended with an exhibit at Widener College in September 2003. In addition to showing his work, Nick has taught drawing, painting, cartooning and computer graphics throughout the Philadelphia region. For more information about Nick Cassway visit http://nickcassway.com/ and http://nickcassway.com/dissentia/. * Justice John Paul Stevens