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DC Jail Inmate Elected to Office

Joel Caston's case may be a US first
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 18, 2021 10:32 AM CDT

(Newser) – Joel Caston has become an elected official in Washington, DC, after an extremely unusual election—Caston, the four candidates he defeated for an Advisory Neighborhood Commission seat, and almost all the voters are inmates at the DC City Jail. The Ward 7 seat he won has been vacant since it was created in 2013 for a district that includes the jail, a shelter for homeless women, and a new luxury apartment complex, reports the Washington Post. Caston, 44, shot a man dead in a DC parking lot when he was 18 and has been incarcerated for 26 years. He expects to be released in about six months and until then, he will have access to a tablet or laptop and a space where he can spend around eight hours a day on his ANC duties, according to Neighbors for Justice founder Julie Johnson.

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Johnson's group helped organize the election after DC granted prisoners the right to vote last July, NBC reports. Caston took around a third of the vote. As a neighborhood commissioner, which is an unpaid role, his work will include providing recommendations on neighborhood issues to the DC council. He is the first incarcerated person in DC to be elected to office, and prison reform advocates say they don't know of any similar cases elsewhere in the US, DCist reports. He says he wants to be a "voice for the people" and a role model for other inmates. But if he does win parole this year, he will likely leave the district and be disqualified from serving the rest of his two-year term in office. "He may be the first elected official to be removed from office because he’s released from prison," says Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute prison-reform group. (Read more Washington DC stories.)

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