Spend a full year in an American criminal courthouse, watch, listen, interview judges, defendants, victims, prosecutors, public and private defenders, jurors and spectators, and then tell a complete story about the criminal justice system. Do it like Steve Bogira did in Courtroom 302 and you will truly serve the public.
Most of us know about criminal justice mainly from television. There are lots of police stories on the news and tv shows in which state attorneys and private lawyers show their rhetorical skills. In reality, the news stories are extremely one-sided and the tv shows paint a picture rarely seen in an actual courtroom. American criminal justice is more like an industry, supporting ever-growing numbers of people. Crime does pay, in that respect (page 57):
“The multitudes brought to 26th Street in handcuffs, whether they’re eventually deemed exportable or not, help cover mortgages, car payments, and tuition bills for jail guards, prosecutors, public defenders, private lawyers, judges, clerks, court reporters, deputies, probation officers, police officers, psychiatrists, social workers, translators, cooks, janitors. Jail guards here sometimes greet batches of new prisoners by saying, ‘We’d like to thank you for committing your crimes in Cook County.’”
Although comments like these can be found in the text, the author mainly lets all these characters tell their stories, some bizarre, some humorous, some sad. With Judge Locallo playing a central part, a picture of a system from which neither prisoners nor the workers in that system can escape slowly builds up. It is an exciting story but still all of it is nonfiction, with real characters and real names.
Courtroom 302 has one flaw, though. It might make readers feel ashamed of things they have said or thought in the past about criminal justice. I know it made me feel that way. For an informed opinion on the subject, this is required reading. And very enjoyable as well.
Presented to you by ABC Customer Robert Jan de Paauw.
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