A diversion program, as defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, is a program that seeks to help the defendant of a criminal case avoid the formal processing of a convicted offender. Though diversion programs take many forms, the typical program diverts a person whom the courts would otherwise sentence to jail to a treatment or care program. North Carolina is just one of many states to implement diversion programs.

Diversion programs often fall into one of two categories: informal and formal. Informal deviation occurs when a sanctioned member of the justice system decides via his or her discretion, and possibly with the help of other members, that a person would be better off if his or her case did not go through the justice system. An example of an informal diversion is when a police officer decides not to cite a speeding driver. Formal diversion might occur when a judge decides to send a domestic violence offender to anger management instead of jail.

States often refer to the latter type of diversion programs — formal diversion programs — as jail diversion programs. This is because the goal of these programs is to keep the wrongdoer out of jail as he or she awaits his or her trial and possibly even after the judge hands down a guilty verdict. Typically, states reserve diversion programs for nonviolent, first-time offenders.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services outlines the state’s requirements for jail diversion programs. Typically, the state will divert a person’s sentence if he or she has a serious mental illness, is in jail on a minor charge, is not a risk to the public or is willing to undergo treatment for his or her mental illness. The state will not consider such a program for those without a mental illness, who are unwilling to cooperate with treatment, who pose a significant risk to the public’s safety or who has been charged with a serious crime.