VernonReporter

Vernon County Recovery Court showing success, lands three year operating grant from Department of Justice

VIROQUA, Wis. – Vernon County Grants Officer Amy Oliver announced last week that Vernon County was awarded $515,523 to fund another three years of Vernon County Recovery Court program. The grant comes from the Adult Treatment Court Discretionary Grant Program which is awarded through U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Oliver said Recovery Court operates within the Vernon County Circuit and includes both Operating While Intoxicating Court (OWI) and Drug Court. OWI and drug offenders are identified at their initial court appearance and, if they choose to participate in the program, are assessed while they await plea and sentencing, which is expedited to allow them to participate in the program as soon as possible.

Oliver said participants generally begin treatment within 50 days after entering the program. Oliver went on to say substance abuse reduction in the program is attained through a process of early intervention, access to treatment that meet the participants’ needs, and consistent programming. The course of each participant’s program may look different, and they work with a treatment provider to determine the best pathway to meet their needs.

The program can include group therapy sessions, individual counseling, peer support, intensive outpatient treatment, in-patient treatment, and/or Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) services as needed. This program also offers transportation assistance to and from appointments. The program capacity is 25 participants and Vernon County anticipates serving 60 participants over the course of the next three years.

Betsie Nachtigal, Vernon County Recovery Court Coordinator said since 2020 Vernon County Recovery Court has had 12 Drug Court Graduates, and 11 Sobriety Court Graduates.

Program history

Nachtigal said Vernon County has a significant alcohol misuse problem. Vernon county’s alcohol related motor vehicle death rate is almost double that of our state average. In an effort to address this, in 2011 Vernon County started a Sobriety Court Program. Vernon County Sobriety Court Program is an optional, early intervention, post-conviction treatment program that was created using the NDRC guiding principles. It is available to defendants who plead guilty to third offense OWI or higher and who meet the eligibility criteria. Participants must be 18 years or older, reside in Vernon County, are high risk/high need and have a substance use disorder.

In 2017 Vernon County was awarded a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) which allowed us to enhance our current operations and work toward implementing a Drug Court, in addition to our Sobriety Court.  We accepted our first Drug Court participants in March 2019 and had our first graduate in July 2020. 

A different approach

Vernon County Recovery Court’s manual states:

Recovery courts are built upon a unique partnership between the criminal justice system and the treatment community, one which structures treatment intervention around the authority and personal involvement of the Recovery Court Judge.  Recovery courts are dependent upon the creation of a non-adversarial courtroom atmosphere where a judge and a dedicated team of court officers and staff work together toward a common goal of breaking the cycle of substance abuse and criminal behavior.

Because of the unique problems and opportunities that present themselves in working with alcohol and other drug involved criminal offenders, treatment and rehabilitation strategies must be “reality-based.”  Recovery court programs must therefore recognize:

· Addicts are most vulnerable to successful intervention when they are in the crisis of initial arrest and incarceration, so intervention must be immediate and up-front.

· Preventing gaps in communication and ensuring offender accountability are critically important.  Therefore, court supervision must be highly coordinated and very comprehensive.

· Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is often a longstanding, debilitating and insidious condition; treatment must be long-term and comprehensive.

· Addiction to alcohol and other drugs seldom exists in isolation from other serious problems that undermine rehabilitation, so treatment must include integration of other available services and resources such as educational assessments, vocational assessments and training and job placement.

· Relapse and intermittent advancement are part of the recovery process; so progressive sanctions and incentives must be integral to the Recovery Court strategy.

Recovery courts success gaining momentum

According to All Rise, the national treatment court association:

-There are now more than 4000 treatment courts in the United States.

-Not only is the treatment court approach effective and humane, but it also saves considerable money for taxpayers. Research shows that treatment courts produce benefits of $6,208 per participant and return up to $27 for every $1 invested.

Local support

Nachtigal said local court officials, including Judge Timothy Gaskell and District Attorney Angela Palmer-Fisher have been very supportive of the approach.

Palmer-Fisher said recovery courts are important proactive tools that not only have better success with recovery, but are also more cost effective.

“By heavily focusing on treatment, providing intensive supervision and requiring regular testing for substances, recovery courts have helped to restore lives and prevent future crimes,” Palmer-Fisher said. “By providing services that focus on the addiction that led to the criminal behavior, recovery courts are not only reducing the costs that comes from housing those who are incarcerated, but they help our neighborhoods remain safer and assist individuals to become productive members of our community.  When a defendant is truly ready for change, it is a great option for our community to be able to offer this type of programming.”

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