PROBLEM: Poor Reading Levels
In fall 2012, our listening process revealed widespread concern for reading levels and the lack of availability of education for at-risk 4 year olds in our families, congregations and community. Our research revealed a waiting list of 280 students for the current CCSD program.
At the annual Action Assembly in April 2013, with 1,500 people present, CAJM secured commitments from the superintendent and Charleston County School Board Members to open 280 more seats for preschool education for at-risk 4 year olds and to implement a research-based reading curriculum. Both the seats and curriculum were made available at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. As of December 2016, over 1,000 more children received a preschool education because of our work.
In the fall of 2012, community members expressed concern with the amount of young people being incarcerated for non-violent offenses. Our research showed that children in Charleston County were being arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than other counties in South Carolina and that most were being arrested for minor offenses. We also found that youth put into jail for minor offenses are more likely to drop out of school and become trapped in the criminal justice system.
In April 2013, 1,500 CAJM representatives gathered and gained commitments from a cross-section of law enforcement officials to reduce youth incarceration by implementing a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI), which objectively determines whether to release the juvenile to a parent to await their court date, or put the juvenile in jail. The RAI was implemented in four law enforcement departments (Mount Pleasant PD, Charleston PD, North Charleston PD and the Sheriff’s Office) in January 2014. CAJM continued to review the collected data every six months to identify improvements and any potential areas of concern.
Through this review process, CAJM noticed that over fifty percent of arrests were coming directly from schools. The organization then voted to continue working on this issue through tackling School Based-Arrests (LINK to school based arrest data).
High Rate of School Suspensions
In fall 2013, in our listening process, CAJM members and students expressed concern for the rate at which their children and peers were being kicked out of the classroom. Research showed that in some schools, up to 50% of the student body had been suspended at least once. We learned that dealing with behavioral problems by removing students from the classroom only exacerbates the situation and in fact makes our schools less safe.
At our annual Nehemiah Action Assembly, on April 29, 2014, 1,700 CAJM representatives gathered and gained commitments from the superintendent and Charleston County School Board to implement two best practices proven to reduce school suspension rates and improve the overall school climate: Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Justice. PBIS was implemented in 10 schools beginning in Fall 2014, and 5 schools were identified for the piloting of Restorative Justice, which was to begin in Fall 2015.
In just one year, out of school suspensions dropped drastically in eight of the ten schools. For example, Jerry Zucker Middle School went from suspending 42% in one year to only 15% after implementing PBIS with fidelity.
We continue to follow-up on this work and plan to visit Duval County School District, in Jacksonville, FL, in December of 2016 with School Board Members to observe Restorative Justice in action.
PROBLEM: Unemployment Among Young People
In our research, we found that 25% of young adults in Charleston County ages 16-24 are unemployed and looking for work. African American young adults in that same age group experience an unemployment rate of 39%.
In April 2014, CAJM gained commitments from Mayor Riley to write a hiring policy which would help increase the hiring of young adults for unskilled, entry-level positions within city public works construction projects. A hiring policy has been written and we continue to work with City officials and local organizations such as SC Works (link SC Works) to get the policy passed and working for the young people in our community.
PROBLEM: Wage Theft
In fall 2014, during our listening process, CAJM members expressed anger about illegal wage practices in Charleston County. Our research revealed that Charleston County residents and employees have their wages stolen or withheld in many ways. We learned that the process for recovering stolen wages was arduous, confusing and largely ineffective.
At our annual Action Assembly on April 27, 2015, nearly 2,000 CAJM members gathered and gained commitments from Charleston County Council Members to propose the allocation of funding to SC Legal Services for the implementation of a Charleston Wage Recovery Program. This program will provide legal aid and advocacy to help the worker recover stolen wages more quickly.
Over the past eleven months, the program has served over sixty families and recovered thousands of dollars, preventing evictions and unpaid bills.
As of November, 2016, Charleston County Council has refused to continue funding the program. We will continue to push for it to be placed in a protected area of the budget so it can obtain the permanent funding source the workers in our community deserve.
PROBLEM: School-Based Arrests
Our community members, children and teens expressed concern with the amount of young people being arrested directly from school. Our research showed that children in Charleston County were being arrested and incarcerated at higher rates than other counties in South Carolina and that over half of them were being arrested for minor offenses from the classroom. Many students were arrested for vague charges like disturbing schools and disorderly conduct, entangling them in the criminal justice system.
At our annual Nehemiah Action Assembly on April 18, 2016, nearly 2,100 CAJM members gathered and gained commitments from four CCSD School Board Members to implement PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) and restorative justice district-wide over the next five years. This is proven to successfully address behavioral issues, keep our kids in school and improve academic achievement. It also teaches our children powerful emotional intelligence skills that serve them in school to de-escalate and resolve conflicts on their own as well as in their future lives as adults.
Over the summer of 2016, over $65,000 was spent by CCSD to intensively train all elementary and middle school teachers to implement PBIS in their schools with fidelity. School Board members and school officials will travel with CAJM representatives on December 16th, 2016 to Duval County Schools in Jacksonville, FL to observe Restorative Justice in action, prior to training taking place for our own teachers in the Charleston Area.
Problem: Racial Discrimination in Police Practices
In CAJM’s annual Listening Process in the fall of 2015, over 800 people gathered across the county in small house meetings and shared many different community problems. One of the primary concerns shared by our congregations was racial discrimination. Racial discrimination was experienced in many areas; housing, medical care, education and the workforce however, hundreds of stories were told about racial discrimination in policing practices.
Our research revealed that Charleston and North Charleston lead the state in discriminatory police stops – in fact, African Americans are stopped nearly three times as often as Whites in our community. These stops are proven to erode community trust, make it difficult and unsafe for our officers to do their jobs well creating a less safe community for all.
One of the most alarming statistics that we learned is that the Low Country actually leads the state in the amount of stops the police conduct for minor violations that then don’t result in a ticket or a citation. In a five-year period, North Charleston had 130,000 of these stops and Charleston had 127,000 – Columbia, comparable in size, only had 33,000 of these stops during that same time period. That means that police in Charleston and North Charleston stop people nearly four times as often as police in Columbia and in our community African Americans and other minorities are stopped at a rate of two and three times that of Whites. These discriminatory practices erode community trust, make it difficult for police officers to do their job well and create a less safe community for all of us.
Our research went on to reveal that other cities across the country have implemented practices in police transparency and accountability that deal effectively with this problem and are proven to build community trust and improve community-police relations. One of those best practices involves hiring an external, independent Police Auditor to conduct an audit of bias-based policing in stops, searches, questioning and frisks that would result in a public report.
At our annual Nehemiah Action Assembly on April 18, 2016, nearly 2,100 CAJM members gathered and gained commitments from Charleston and North Charleston City Council Members to begin the process to hire an external, independent police auditor to audit bias-based policing in stops, searches, questioning, and frisks. It will allow the community to see what is happening within our police departments, improving transparency and offer constructive, proven to work recommendations on how to address discriminatory police practices.
As of December 2016, Charleston Mayor Tecklenburg has refused to hire an external, independent professional police auditor to audit the Charleston PD for bias-based policing. He is instead advocating for a performance assessment focused on efficiency. This is not the type of audit of our police department that is needed to build trust. We continue to work to show our city officials that it is not enough, and that our city, its citizens and our officers deserve an outside professional look at what is happening in our police department. It is only through an independent, professional police audit that the department can show transparency and the community can begin to build trust
©2017 Charleston Area Justice Ministry