What is CAJM?
The Charleston Area Justice Ministry (CAJM) is a growing network of faith-based congregations and other community organizations who come together with one goal: to make the Charleston area more just. We are culturally, economically, geographically, and religiously, diverse. Together, we speak with one powerful voice for justice for our community. We accomplish this by doing research, educating the public, and publicly addressing the root causes of, and solutions to, poverty and injustice in our communities. CAJM’s unique approach transforms systems that cause suffering by encouraging local officials to use best practices and holding them accountable when they do not.
Bethel Presbyterian, John’s Island
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Charleston
Calvary Baptist, Charleston
Calvary Episcopal, Charleston
Central Mosque of Charleston, Charleston
Charity Missionary Baptist, North Charleston
Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston
Circular Congregational Church, Charleston
First Scots Presbyterian, Charleston
Graham AME, Charleston
Hope Assembly, Charleston
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, Charleston
Morris Brown AME, Charleston
Morris Street Baptist, Charleston
New Tabernacle 4th Baptist, Charleston
North Charleston United Methodist, North Charleston
Rehoboth Full Gospel
Solid Rock Christian Fellowship, Charleston
St. Francis Episcopal, Charleston
St. James Presbyterian, Charleston
St. John Catholic, North Charleston
St. Mark’s Episcopal, Charleston
St. Matthew Baptist, North Charleston
St. Patrick Catholic, Charleston
St. Peter’s AME, North Charleston
The Unitarian Church in Charleston, Charleston
Wallingford Presbyterian, Charleston
YWCA Greater Charleston, Charleston
What we do
CAJM’s process of bringing diverse community members together to identify systemic problems, research alternatives, and hold leaders accountable to enact solutions has strengthened Charleston since 2012.
CAJM pressed 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. Since 2013, over 1,500 children have received early childhood education who otherwise would not.
Removing students from the classroom for behavioral problems does not solve but exacerbates behavioral issues and makes our schools less safe. In Charleston County suspension rates skyrocketed: in some schools as many as 50% of the student body were suspended. If you were a black student in Charleston County, you were more than six times more likely than a white student to be suspended or arrested in school. CAJM obtained commitments from the superintendent and school board to train all schools in Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and to being implementation of restorative practices to teach students, teacher, and staff how to resolve conflict and build relationships.
Charleston and North Charleston lead the state in discriminatory police stops – in fact, police stop African Americans 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 and effectively and create a less safe community for all. CAJM gained commitments from some Charleston city council members to hire an external, independent police auditor to audit bias-based policing in stops, searches, questioning, and frisks. Such an audit 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.
The public transportation system in Charleston is supposed to connect people to work, school, and healthcare, but the reality stands in stark contrast. Every day around 15,000 people ride buses in Charleston, 11,000 of those people riding because they have no other transit option. Most transit-dependent people earn less than $40,000 a year, most of them are African American, most of them are women, and most of them use the bus to get to work. Even though the Charleston region is the most dangerous region in the state for cyclists and pedestrians, 13,200 people still have to walk and bike the first and last miles from their bus stops. The average wait time for buses is an hour, making it nearly impossible to do anything but build your life around a bus schedule. In 2019, CAJM pushed officials to change the following inequitable fare policies: charging fees to transfer buses, failing to provide a weekly unlimited pass, and preventing seniors from using their discounted fares during peak hours. The Charleston transit authority, CARTA, passed all three of CAJM’s policy recommendations. CAJM continues to address the infrequency of bus routes, and is committed to reducing the time transit-dependent riders have to spend waiting for transportation.
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.
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. CAJM pressed Charleston County Council members to fund the implementation of a Charleston Wage Recovery Program with SC Legal Services. The program is being expanded through Charleston Legal Access, Charleston’s first sliding scale law firm, so that workers of all income levels including undocumented workers may receive representation.
Charleston area housing costs have skyrocketed. 211,000 area residents spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, indicating a housing affordability problem. Rental costs increased twice as much as wages from 2011 to 2016. North Charleston’s 2016 eviction rate was 16.5 percent, the highest of any large city in the nation, with 10 households evicted every day. Elected officials representing all four governing bodies in the Charleston region agreed to support CAJM’s Housing Action Plan as a first step in establishing a Regional Housing Trust Fund with permanent funding from all local governments.