- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - The adversarial system has given way to the collaborative model in a Dodge County courtroom for juvenile offenders.

A railing has been taken away and a row of benches has been moved to make way for a conference table and 16 chairs. It’s flanked by a wall-mounted television screen for presentations and video conferencing.

County Judge Ken Vampola usually sits at the table with the defendant and his or her parents or guardian and the lawyers involved. He told the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1jQ1Vnz ) that the new layout has created “an atmosphere of teamwork.”

Chronic delinquent youths today “have no fear of authority,” Vampola said, “so the juvenile has to personally be motivated and buy into their future. Threatening, cajoling, finger pointing, raising your voice, is not conducive to having a juvenile take responsibility for their future, so the purpose is to create an atmosphere for the face-to-face discussion.”

Officials said the courtroom’s new look reflects the county’s commitment to helping juveniles rather than just punishing them.

Last fall the county attorney’s office began a new truancy program that tries to solve issues before they reach the court. In addition, the chief probation officer has applied for a grant to pay for alternatives to incarcerating juveniles.

Chief probation officer Bob Denton said that if the county lands the $7,000 state grant, the county could use ankle bracelets and youth workers to track errant juveniles.

Research has shown that detention “actually causes more harm than any benefit, so we have a high priority to avoid putting kids in detention,” Denton said. “We only like to use detention when there’s no other option, the kid is a danger to himself, he’s a danger to others or he’s a flight risk.”

Denton likes the judge’s down-from-the-bench approach.

“I think the judge’s philosophy is right in line with the way that you would have to work with kids,” Denton said. “You have to make them feel more comfortable; you don’t want to create this adversarial system,” he said.

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Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com


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