Art for Justice, a Philadelphia-area based nonprofit organization that supports and exhibits the artwork of prison inmates, recently recognized Widener Law Professor Leonard N. Sosnov
for his work representing individuals on behalf of Centurion Ministries, a Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing innocent people sentenced to life imprisonment or death.
Sosnov was presented with a painting at a reception Thursday, Sept. 15 in the Widener University Art Gallery in Chester, Pa. The gallery is hosting Art for Justice’s 50th display of artwork in a show that runs from Aug. 30 to Oct. 15. The reception was a celebration of the display and that milestone.
Founded in 1997, Art for Justice supports inmate art and stimulates dialogue about finding humane, effective ways to improve the criminal justice and corrections systems. Sosnov was presented with a painting titled “The Wall: Lawyer.” In it, artist Daniel Gwynn depicts a lawyer reaching over a prison wall, to make contact with an inmate.
In his 21 years as a criminal law professor on Widener’s Delaware campus, Sosnov’s work with Centurion Ministries has brought about the release of four inmates who had long maintained their innocence. Most recently this year, after 15 years of litigation, he and co-counsel secured the court-ordered release of a man held for more than 45 years. In two other cases, after 10 years of court battles, inmates held more than two decades gained their freedom after new trials were granted. Finally, in the fourth case, Sosnov found long-forgotten physical evidence in a 13-year-old rape case, and arranged for DNA testing. Test results showed sperm on the evidence did not belong to the defendant, who was ultimately released from prison.
For Sosnov the work has been a way to give back, stay active in the courts and the law, and invigorate his teaching. He was an attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia from 1972 to 1990, when he came to Widener’s campus in Delaware. He holds a law degree from Harvard University Law School.
“Being involved in freeing a long-imprisoned innocent person is always bittersweet but also very gratifying,” he has said. “This work defines why I chose to become a lawyer in the first place. I really appreciate being honored with the gift of this painting.”
Art for Justice Director Ann Marie Kirk said the organization has helped raise awareness and create a public dialogue about serious issues in the criminal justice system including wrongful convictions, life without parole, mandatory sentencing, the use of isolation units, juveniles serving life sentences, and those who are incarcerated with serious mental illnesses.
It made sense to honor Sosnov, given his position with the university and the exhibit on display in the school’s gallery, Kirk said.
“Art for Justice exhibits provide a platform for focusing on serious systemic flaws in the criminal justice system which permeate the social fabric of our times.” Kirk said. “It is an honor to recognize Mr. Sosnov for his work that has freed wrongly convicted individuals.”
The exhibition at Widener, titled Incarcerated Artists’ Creations from Within, includes more than 75 works by 14 different artists who are either on Pennsylvania’s death row or serving life sentences at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford and the State Correctional Institution at Greene. The gallery is free and open to the public Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Wednesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will be closed Saturday, Sept. 3. The gallery is located on the Main Campus of Widener University in University Center on 14th Street between Walnut Street and Melrose Avenue in Chester
For more information on Art for Justice, visit the organization’s website at www.artforjustice.org