Washington, DC – An inmate at the DC Jail on Tuesday became the first incarcerated person ever elected to office in the nation’s capital.
Joel Caston was elected on Jun 15 to be the advisory neighborhood commissioner for District 7F07, which includes the correctional facility, a women’s shelter, and a recently-opened luxury apartment building, NBC News reported.
Caston, 44, has been incarcerated for 26 years.
He was locked up at 18 for the murder of 18-year-old Rafiq Washington, whom he was convicted of shooting in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant in DC, The Washington Post reported.
Caston has spent more than four years of his sentence incarcerated at the DC Jail in the southeast quadrant of the city.
That makes him one of the jail’s longest-tenured inmates, according to The Washington Post.
The DC Jail houses 1,400 male and female inmates.
In July of 2020, DC changed the law to allow incarcerated people in the city to vote, and that brought attention to the fact that the seat on the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) district where the DC Jail was located had been vacant since 2013, The Washington Post reported.
Community activists banded together and formed Neighbors for Justice, a group committed to supporting “our neighbors at the jail during COVID and beyond,” according to the organization’s website.
Neighbors for Justice spearheaded the search for inmates to run for the open ANC seat to represent the residents of the DC Jail and the community that immediately surrounds it, The Washington Post reported.
Advisory neighborhood commissioner is an unpaid position. The commissioners advise and provide recommendations on neighborhood issues to members of the DC City Council.
Caston was one of several inmate candidates who ran for the ANC seat in November of 2020, but he was disqualified because he was still registered to vote at his previous address in a different neighborhood, The Washington Post reported.
Several other candidates were disqualified for failing to meet residency requirements and a special election was ordered to fill the seat.
But the new election was postponed until this week because of the pandemic, The Washington Post reported.
All five candidates who ran for the ANC District 7F07 seat on Jun 15 were inmates at the DC Jail.
Each inmate made a campaign video during the run-up, with the help of the DC Department of Corrections, NBC News reported.
“Imagine a single member district where every voice matters, every concern is heard and every person is valued,” Caston said in his video.
Neighbors for Justice announced that Caston had gotten 48 of the 142 votes cast in the election, NBC News reported.
— ANC7F (@ANC7F) June 16, 2021
“I feel presidential,” Caston told The Washington Post in a virtual interview the day after he was elected. “But it’s not about you, it’s about the work you do.”
Neighbors for Justice Founder Julie Johnson said Caston will be given access to a laptop or tablet, an email account, and a place to work on fulfilling his ANC duties from inside the jail for up to eight hours a day, The Washington Post reported
“It’s not just about a historic election, with a first-ever ANC commissioner who is incarcerated,” Johnson said. “It’s about giving a voice and visibility to a population that is unseen.”
Caston is expecting to be released from jail in about six months, The Washington Post reported.
He said he was planning to try to find a place to live in the jail’s ANC district so he can continue to represent the community.