But the reality of what goes on inside America's criminal justice system is very different. Just ask the millions of Americans who are locked up in prisons and jails, or the clerks and judges who work in the system. The cost to taxpayers to keep the wheels of justice turning is now more than $165 billion a year.
But how is justice being served? Chicago journalist Steve Bogira wanted to find out and he spent a year at the busiest felony courthouse in the country, Chicago's Cook County Criminal Court. He saw thousands of defendants, all but invisible to society, move from lock-up to trial to prison, leaving behind enormous trails of legal and moral questions about justice in America.
Hear a conversation with Steve Bogira about the real face of America's criminal justice system.
Steve Bogira is staff writer for the Chicago Reader. In 1998, he spent a year in one courtroom in Chicago's Cook County Criminal Courthouse. His new book about that experience is titled "Courtroom 302: A Year Behind the Scenes in an American Criminal Courthouse."
This program aired on March 30, 2005.