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LEAD History

"Never underestimate the power of a seed"

The LEAD planning group began in 2018 and was

workshopped for 2 years before receiving funding and

being housed by the Mediation and Restorative Justice Center.

This group identified barriers within the community such as:

  • Substance use, behavioral health, and/ or lack of resources lead to chronic incarceration. 

  • The opioid epidemic leading to escalations in drug-related deaths and chronic illnesses.

  • Lack of adequate treatment and support for people entangled in the criminal justice system, leading to a cycle of criminal activity, incarceration, and/ or early death.

  • Lack of case management, peer support services, and transportation for linkages to appropriate community resources.

  • Barriers to gainful employment and stable housing (key factors in successful recovery from addiction) due to criminal record and incarceration.

Watauga LEAD was initially founded on a concept of diversion, an officer/participant agreement to divert a charge to case management instead of processing judicially; however, this soon grew into a greater concept of harm reduction. 

Harm reduction is the concept of lessening the negative effects of activities by offering safer alternatives, treatment options, basic aid, and support. 


Our Team.

Watauga Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) is a trauma-informed, community-oriented approach to addressing the challenges associated with mental health and substance use. LEAD seeks to 

  1. reduce the potential for harm, and 

  2. improve public safety and access to resources by connecting individuals at risk of justice system involvement with services and support.


This approach has proven to save money with demonstrated success in reducing future harmful behavior, as opposed to processing those at risk of involvement through the criminal justice system.

Program Objectives:

  • Offer restorative social services such as case management, peer support, and connection with community resources (SA/MH treatment, Transportation, housing/food/medication assistance, health services, employment/ vocational training/support, etc.)

  • Reduce over-reliance on emergency healthcare through linkage to affordable preventative care.

  • Support collaborative education, prevention, and intervention efforts involving opioid use and other substance use disorders.

  • Utilize peer support and case management to assist and encourage justice-involved individuals to enter systems of care, remove barriers to recovery, and stay engaged in recovery.

  • Bolster Community resources by advocation and providing outreach.

What is a criminal charge diversion?

Clients who come to us through a diversion mean that they initially had contact with a law enforcement officer who could have charged them with an eligible offense. Instead, the officer chose to divert the

person into case management and support instead of the local criminal justice system. If the person

agrees with the officer to participate in LEAD, the person will have 2 weeks to connect with LEAD staff otherwise the officer can choose to retroactively file  criminal charges. 

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Email: wataugalead@gmail.com

Phone: 828-406-9911

Contact us with any questions or to get help for yourself or someone you care about. 

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© 2022 by Mediation and Restorative Justice Center, a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved.

"LEAD" is a registered trademark held by the Public Defender Association for the Seattle/ King County LEAD Policy Coordinating Group.