Joel Caston, an inmate at the D.C. Jail, made history Tuesday as the first from that correctional institution to be elected to a public office in the District.
Caston will serve as the advisory neighborhood commissioner (ANC) for single-member district 7F07 in Ward 7. In addition to the roughly 1,500 residents of the D.C. jail, the district includes the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter and residents of Park Kennedy, an apartment complex across the street from the jail.
Caston is believed to be the only incarcerated person to have been elected to a political office in the country at this time. The process for filling the seat started last year when some Ward 6 commissioners, a group of District residents known as the Neighbors for Justice and returning citizens advocates made the seat’s vacancy known to city officials and urged the D.C. Department of Corrections to work to fill the position. An election occurred in November and Caston won the position but was disqualified due to a technical error regarding his voter registration. Plus, the seat couldn’t be filled in a special election because of the public health emergency declared by Bowser earlier that year due to the coronavirus pandemic suspending such activity. In March, the D.C. Council made an exception to the emergency and passed a bill requiring the D.C. Board of Elections to resume filling elections to empty ANC positions, making way for the June 15 7F07 election. Additionally, the District’s elections and corrections departments worked with the Office of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to get qualified inmates for running for the seat and voting.
Caston defeated Keith Littlepage-El, Gary Proctor, Aaron Brown and Kim Thompson to win the election out of a total of 142 votes cast.
Caston also will be the first to serve as 7F07’s commissioner since the position came into being in 2011 as a result of the 2010 redistricting process. Tyrell M. Holcomb, the chairman of the 7F Commission expressed excitement about Caston’s victory.
“Representation is an important part of equity and inclusion,” Holcomb said. “I could not be more excited of a new colleague (a resident of the DC Jail) joining the 7F commission. Those who reside at both the D.C. jail and women’s shelter deserve a voice who can advocate on their behalf of their issues and concerns. As chair of ANC 7F I look forward to welcoming my new colleague to the 7F commission and working with him. Now is the time we collaboratively work together on behalf of all those in our community.”