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Washington, DC, inmate becomes city’s first incarcerated person to win elected office

A Washington, DC inmate on Tuesday became the city’s first incarcerated person to win an elected office.

Joel Caston, 44, won the race for Ward Advisory Commissioner for District 7F07 in southeast DC, where he will oversee the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, New Luxury Apartments and DC Jail – where he is incarcerated.

DC Jail is home to 1,400 male and female inmates, and the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter accommodates up to 175 women per night.

Joel Caston, winner of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat 7F07 representing DC Jail and a new townhouse development, both located on Capitol Hill.DOC / via Neighbors for Justice

Neighborhood advisory commissioners are locally elected officials who serve two-year terms without pay and “were created to bring government closer to the people,” according to DC.gov. The seat has been vacant for 12 years, and although elections are usually held in November, a technical detail prevented the announcement of a winner last year.

Caston, who ran against four other inmates, won 48 of 142 votes, according to Neighbors for Justice, an organization that helped facilitate the election.

Each inmate, with the help of the Department of Corrections, made a video announcing their race. Caston in his video promised his fellow inmates, the women of the Harriet Tubman shelter and their neighbors in the luxury apartments, that he would work hard to defend their every need.

“Imagine a one-member district where every voice counts, every concern is heard and every person is valued,” Caston said.

Caston has been in jail since the age of 18 after committing a crime, Julie Johnson, founder of Neighbors for Justice, told NBC News.

He wrote in his candidate survey that he had served as a cult leader and editor of a newspaper at the prison. He was also the founding mentor of the Young Men Emerging program and wrote a dissertation on criminal justice reform.

Caston “is a natural leader and a kind, intelligent and thoughtful person,” Johnson said.

“This election gives hope to the residents of the prison, knowing that they now have a representative who will give voice and visibility to the problems they are experiencing,” she said.



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