VernonReporter

VIDEO STORY: Vernon County Recovery Court graduates credit program for their success

In an effort to draw attention to programs across the country known as “Treatment Courts” or “Recovery Courts”, Vernon County Recovery Court Coordinator Betsie Nachtigal recently invited us to a graduation ceremony at the Vernon County Courthouse. The graduation ceremony was to celebrate one particular individual who was graduating out of the program, but also to mark the success of a number of individuals who are currently moving their way through that program.
According to Nachtigal since the inception of the Sobriety Court in Vernon County in 2011, they’ve seen 58 successful graduates, and the Vernon County Drug Court which was established in 2019 has seen 12 people graduate from that program. Nachtigal says there are currently eight people enrolled in those programs.

Vernon County Recovery Court Coordinator Betsie Nachtigal

So what is recovery court and how does it work? According to Nachtigal recovery court is a voluntary treatment program. It’s available to defendants who have been convicted of substance use related offenses, and who meet eligibility requirements. The Vernon County program targets moderate to high risk nonviolent offenders where there’s reasonable evidence that the offenders criminal activity is connected directly to their ongoing chronic or habitual abuse of substances. Nachtigal says the program itself consists of a 14-month program. Someone who was charged with alcohol drug related offenses, depending on their circumstances, are offer to reduce sentence if they enroll in the program.

“So the program has five phases,” Nachtigal said, “Phase one is kind of our stabilization period. So that’s 60 days long, and each phase it’s a little harder as far as sobriety dates, different assignments that they’re required to do. But most of everyone else was just in kind of their monthly court hearing. They’re all in phase three or higher right now. And as you can see the judge talking, he was kind of checking in on what’s going on with their lives. Recovery courts a little bit different than your traditional court hearing where we’re trying to build on their skills, tools to cope with the everyday life struggles, and be able to do that in a sober community too.”

Recovery courts a little bit different than your traditional court hearing where we’re trying to build on their skills, tools to cope with the everyday life struggles, and be able to do that in a sober community too.”

Vernon County Recovery Court Coordinator Betsie Nachtigal


Nachtigal says the program tries to give individuals the tools to cope with their substance abuse, but also more personal interaction. Not only with her program, but with the court staff, and with the judge.

“Treatment courts are built on evidence-based treatment procedures, things like that for the court,” Said Nachtigal. “And evidence shows that being with the judge in a positive interaction has helped with getting their sobriety, getting progress in the courts, because everyone knows that, unfortunately we see people going to jail often, and has jail worked? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. But in treatment courts the whole thought is to gain knowledge, to be able to be a community member again, and also be able to deal with your life. And our treatment provider Patrick Kelly, over at Family and Children’s Center does a great job. He does group therapy twice a week, and they do have individual sessions as well. But being able to interact with your probation officer, as well as me as a drug court coordinator, and the judge, to see the judge in a different light. And Judge Gaskell is fantastic to watch, and how he interacts with them.”

“And evidence shows that being with the judge in a positive interaction has helped with getting their sobriety, getting progress in the courts, because everyone knows that, unfortunately we see people going to jail often, and has jail worked? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. But in treatment courts the whole thought is to gain knowledge, to be able to be a community member again, and also be able to deal with your life.”

Vernon County Recovery Court Coordinator Betsie Nachtigal


That personal interaction with not only the judge, but all of the court staff, and everybody involved in the program, was obvious when we attended that graduation ceremony just before Christmas at the Vernon County Courthouse. Because of privacy reasons, we couldn’t film that ceremony, but the Judge took the time to talk to every one of the participants in the program, asking them personal questions about their life, where they are, their jobs, their families, but there were two participants agreed to a talk to us on camera. Kyle, who at the time of this interview was about to enter stage five of the program, talked a little bit about what the program has done for him.

“Because, in my opinion they lock somebody up and they get the state and federal treatment, or whatever you want to say they get in prison, and then they walk out and they’re probably going to fall right back to the steps that they were,” said Kyle “And I probably, when I spoke with judge Rood last, I said that’s probably exactly what would have happened to me. I said I would have walked right back out into that life the I was, because I wouldn’t have learned these things that I’ve learned in this program.”

Kyle had been working on a road crew, and he says because of the skills and the recovery he went through in this program he was able to turn his life around and now works in a pharmacy.

“And I can easily say being a part of this program, I probably never would have gotten the confidence and the support, or just becoming more emotionally stable to be able to sit and do customer service and deal with people through the drive-through and help them with other things.”

Kyle- Vernon County Recovery Court participant


“Yeah,” said Kyle. “And the best thing was, I could say I was a former road crew foreman for a construction company before when I got in trouble, so doing that is like the complete opposite of what I normally, or what I’ve grown up doing. And I can easily say being a part of this program, I probably never would have gotten the confidence and the support, or just becoming more emotionally stable to be able to sit and do customer service and deal with people through the drive-through and help them with other things.”

Kyle said success in the program often depends on whether or not you’re ready to make a change in your life, and he said for him when he got his sixth OWI and he was offered a chance at the program he decided it was time for him to make that change.

“I was working for a road construction company,” said Kyle. “We were working in a quarry in the winter. I happened to get my 6th OWI in Westby, and as the court proceedings went on and on, this opportunity became available. In the beginning they told me that since I wasn’t a resident of the county I was not going be allowed in the program, but if I pretty much agreed to give up everything and move down here, they would allow me in the program. I ended up selling my house and moved down here, and I can easily say that was the best thing I ever did. And this is the best investment in myself that I can ever imagine. I never thought things would have turned out this well.”

and I can easily say that was the best thing I ever did. And this is the best investment in myself that I can ever imagine. I never thought things would have turned out this well.”

Kyle- Vernon County Recovery Court participant

We also had a chance to talk to Marc. Marc was the individual graduating from the program on the day we visited. IT was obvious from the remarks from the judge, the other courthouse staff, and from the participants in the program, that he was an inspiration for everyone because of how hard he worked, and how far he had come. Marc said there were setbacks through the process of getting through the program, including the death of his parents, but he said the skills he was taught enabled him to get through successfully.

“Using what I learned in the program,” said Marc. “Learning my triggers. Not keeping stuff bottled up inside. Making sure you get out and talk to people. Individual sessions, you have once a week with either somebody from Family Children’s Center in La Crosse or Viroqua. So that helped, being able to talk about life.”

Marc was facing his third OWI. He said he knew it was time for a change for himself, and this program was different. Not like ones in the past and actually gave him the tools to make those changes.

“And they did have a little bit of a program here, but it was more like reading out of a pamphlet and maybe taking a test. You didn’t really seem to dig down into the root of the problem. You were just doing what you needed to do to get back to your life. Here, they’re giving you tools to find out what triggers you.”

Marc- Vernon County Recovery Court Graduate

“I had my my other one my second one (OWI) ten years ago,” said Marc. “And they did have a little bit of a program here, but it was more like reading out of a pamphlet and maybe taking a test. You didn’t really seem to dig down into the root of the problem. You were just doing what you needed to do to get back to your life. Here, they’re giving you tools to find out what triggers you. Mine is life altering things that happen in life. Parents passing. You know, if something happens with your kids, or your significant other, or spats at work and stuff, aren’t life changing. It gave me tools so now if something happens and I’m, I used to just clam up. I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I would shove everything down in and go get drunk and try to drink it away. Well obviously, you can’t do that because it’s going to be right there when you sober up, and you’ve got your problems, all your problems and a hangover. So, I would recommend anybody, and not just to get out of jail, or whatever. But if you’re really trying to better yourself, you can use what you’ve learned for everything. When I first started, my girlfriend and I we communicated but not to the point like to open up. Even my brother, I talked to him more deeply than we used, to get down to the root of the problem. To get it off your chest so you’re not thinking about it a week from now, two weeks from now, a month.”

So, I would recommend anybody, and not just to get out of jail, or whatever. But if you’re really trying to better yourself, you can use what you’ve learned for everything.”

Marc- Vernon County Recovery Court Graduate

And program coordinator Nachtigal said the programs aren’t necessarily for everyone. Not everyone is successful, but she said it does offer people a chance to change their lives and it’s often a much better alternative than incarceration.

“So it’s definitely a different mindset,” said Nachtigal. “You have to think about, what we’re giving them is a chance to make their lives, to like change their lives. And as a community member having someone who is trying to transform their life, not drinking and driving again, and for, I’ll say, you don’t want anybody to hurt someone out there. So we’re giving them an option to do that. Without treatment a lot of people re-offend. And that is the thing, the other part of our eligibility criteria is high risk and high need individuals. So it is not for the faint of heart, and not everyone makes it through. But you know we’re giving you the tools, and we do understand that sometimes there are setbacks, and that’s the whole basis of treatment courts we don’t expect perfection from you. But we want you to keep showing progress.”

For more information on Vernon County Recovery Court you can go to their website.

To learn more about treatment courts, including impaired driving treatment courts you can go to the AllRise website here.

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