Portraits of Inmates in the Death Row Population Sentenced as Juveniles

This installation was commissioned by Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and was on display from 2002 through 2005.

The piece centers on the theme of death row inmates that were sentenced as juveniles, an issue the supreme court in October of 2002 refused to review.{In March 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for those who had committed their crimes at under 18 years of age was cruel and unusual punishment and hence barred by the Constitution.) The images were made by spraying a rust-proof clear coating through a stencil onto sandblasted steel panels. Areas not sprayed by the coating rusted, the stenciled areas retained the original color of the raw steel.

Original Artists Statement
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 the 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? A new exhibit for 2003, 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.

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