Sobriety over sentencing: Sauk County starts drug court program
Every Friday morning, you can find Eddie Hatfield at the Sauk County courthouse.
“It was hard to even come in this building, knowing what I’ve been through here before,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield said he has a long family history of heroin use. He started treatment in jail last year before getting out and sober. He was clean for about eight months before Jan. 8.
That morning, Hatfield said he overdosed on the way to work. In his words, he died. It took two doses of Narcan to revive him.
“By the grace of God I didn’t crash and hurt other people,” Hatfield said.
It was either go to jail or participate in the Sauk County Drug Court. Even for a man who was taught to never trust police, he couldn’t ignore the right choice. That became even more apparent when his daughter, Emma, was born.
“I never want to put her in any kind of situation like I grew up in,” Hatfield said. “I definitely want the best for her, and I’m going to strive for it. I will succeed.”
It’s exactly why Judge Michael Screnock sits behind the bench.
“I wanted to become a judge because I wanted to serve the public,” Screnock said. “I really view this role as an incredible opportunity but also an awesome responsibility to serve the public.”
Most of the time, Screnock is making judgments with the help of a jury. The Sauk County Drug Court is different from anywhere he has ever worked.
“They’ve never been in a courtroom in a setting that wasn’t adversarial and wasn’t frankly intended to ‘get them,'” Screnock said.
Since the drug court began Jan. 1, Screnock has seen himself as the mouthpiece of the drug court team. That team is made up of law enforcement officers, a court coordinator, a probation agent, the district attorney and treatment providers. The group discusses the progress of every program participant before heading into court.
“The efforts that we go through are absolutely individualized,” Screnock said.
Screnock points out that holding the discussions in a court setting promotes some level of accountability.
“I think what it does is that it conveys to the individuals that this is a serious thing,” Screnock said.
That said, he understands how it could be difficult to trust the system that incarcerated them.
“It really is hard, I think, for someone in that position to believe that we mean what we say, which is we really are here to help you,” Screnock said.
There are currently five recovering addicts enrolled in Sauk County’s Drug Court program, with another nine waiting on referral or being processed. Each participant is expected to commit to 18 to 24 months in the program. On top of the weekly court visits, those people are expected to pursue medical treatment, therapy, group meetings and volunteer opportunities.
Screnock said the process keeps people out of the court system, and more importantly, leaves a positive mark on the community.
“It is so all-encompassing and it touches so many areas of our lives that the goal really is to help as many people as we can to get out of the addiction and to be able to move on with productive lives and move on with lives that they can really enjoy,” Screnock said.