Incarcerated Person In Washington, D.C. Jail Becomes First To Win Elected Office
The new advisory neighborhood commissioner will oversee a women's support center, nearby luxury apartments and the jail he resides in.
June 16, 2021 at 10:14 pm
A Black man made history as the first-ever incarcerated person in Washington D.C. to win an elected office.
Joel Caston came up victorious in the race for advisory neighborhood commissioner of southeastern district 7F07, where he’ll oversee the Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, new local, luxury apartments and the jail where he is incarcerated, according to NBC News.
“It’s winning Wednesday,” Caston said during an interview from the D.C. Jail, according to DCist. “[I feel] like a representative. It’s a good feeling, but also a sense of responsibility.”
The 44-year-old Black man, who campaigned against four other incarcerated people, garnered 48 of the 142 total votes, according to an organization that helped supervise the election, NBC News reports.
Congratulations to Commissioner-Elect Joel Caston for #ANC7F07! They snatched this from you the first time but we know you can't stop what's destined. This is an historic election for incarcerated people in #DCJail to finally have representation on #ANC7F. #Ward7
— Anthony Lorenzo Green | Chief Time Reclaimer (@LorenzoWard7DC) June 16, 2021
Each of the people in the race made a campaign video with the assistance of the Department of Corrections. In his video, Caston pledged to his fellow inmates, the women in the Harriet Tubman Shelter and their neighbors in the luxury apartments that he would work hard to advocate on behalf of their needs.
"Imagine a single member district where every voice matters, every concern is heard and every person is valued," he said.
Since the age of 18, the D.C. native has been incarcerated for the killing of a teenage male, according to The Washington Post. The 44-year-old has sought early release under the city’s IRAA law, which allows people who committed crimes as teenagers an opportunity to appeal for lightened sentences after serving 15 years, DCist reports.
In his candidate survey, Caston wrote that he worked as the editor of a paper at the jail and authored a criminal justice reform brief. He was also the founding mentor of the Young Men Emerging program and a worship leader at the correctional institution, according to NBC News.
Last November, Caston ran as a write-in candidate but was disqualified due to a technical error related to his voter registration. Local activists, community organizations and the D.C. Council rallied together to demand a new election.
Those who have come to know Caston say that they aren’t shocked he’d put his sights on the ANC seat.
“As I have come to know Joel over time … I’m reminded every day of how much we waste assets and people who can contribute to our community because they are behind bars for far too long,” Marc Schindler, the executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, which advocates for alternatives to mass incarceration, said. “He grew up essentially in a war zone, but if he had been given the resources and support that my kids get … this would have been a very different story from the beginning.”
Even though he was disqualified in his first attempt, the D.C. native said he finds meaning in running for an elected position. He shared a story of how an older person who had just arrived at the jail told Caston how he heard about his campaign.
“He said ‘I’m so proud of you.’ There was some younger gentlemen in the holding room [too], and they were like, ‘Oh, you were the guy who ran?’ The conversation started flowing, they were like, ‘I wanna run, I wanna run.’ I’m just listening to them, smiling, but inside my heart was blushing,” Caston recalled. “This is what it’s about. If we can see one of us succeed … then everyone else will follow suit. So we change the narrative. I look at who was running for the ANC seat as changing the narrative.”