The justice system around the world is cyclical: each stage has its own rules yet feeds into the next. Some systems are dysfunctional in some ways and smooth in others. Some are rotten to the core. With this three-part focus we follow this circular structure through each of its steps — Policing, The Courts, and Prisons.

 

A question for civilization: how can you administer justice? How to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime—or anything—truly happened in the sequence you intend to demonstrate or disprove in the courtroom? How can we make sense, as a society, as a collective, of the crimes our fellow citizens commit? How do the structures we have built for doing so withstand pressures and stresses that threaten their integrity and risk turning them into theater?

The day-to-day operations of a courtroom may often seem banal, as anybody who has attended one can attest. They are lightyears from the bombastic courtrooms familiar from the final act of American crime movies. In reality, a courtroom is more process-based, flat, unemotional. Yet they are also undeniably pure, elemental stages for these giant questions, never able to escape the feeling of a performance. The scope of these ideas and impulses seem to pierce into the heart of our own self-organization as human beings. They challenge us while we try to form cultures, communities, and governments.

At a minimum, courtrooms are places where guilt and innocence are regularly decided and legally adjudicated upon, where lives are transformed irrevocably for the better or for the worse, where justice is done or miscarried. These films go right to those basic questions and then grapple with the often uncomfortable answers they drag out of them. It ain't easy, but it is the real work of civilization.

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