- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2021

An inmate at the D.C. Jail has been elected to a seat on the Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission that had been vacant for a decade.

Joel Caston, 44, beat four other inmates in the unprecedented election on Tuesday. He has been incarcerated for more than 25 years after being convicted of first-degree murder when he was 18.

Caston ran against fellow inmates Aaron Brown, 25; Gary Proctor, 43; Keith Littlepage-El, 59; and Kim Thompson, 63.

The election was largely orchestrated by the local prisoners’ rights group Neighbors for Justice.

“Joel will be an amazing inaugural commissioner,” the group tweeted Wednesday. “He is thoughtful, kind, and engaged.”

Neighborhood commissioners are unpaid, serve two-year terms and represent more than 200 neighborhoods spread across 40 districts in the city.

Commissioners hold monthly meetings with residents to help resolve problems in their neighborhoods and advise government agencies on matters that affect their areas.

Julie Johnson, co-founder of Neighbors for Justice, told The Washington Times last week that the jail is planning to give the commissioner a tablet and workspace for his duties.

Ms. Johnson and other advocates also are urging commissioners to hold meetings in a hybrid format to allow the inmate to participate virtually.

The Ward 7 seat was created in 2011 through redistricting, which carved out a plot of land in the eastern part of the city that includes residential neighborhoods, a women’s shelter and the jail.

The position has likely remained unfilled because not many people are aware it exists, Ms. Johnson said.

In March, the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation requiring vacant ANC positions to be filled at the behest of the advocates.

Council member Robert C. White Jr., an at-large Democrat who helped pass the bill, told The Times that he is “very supportive” of having an inmate serve as an advisory neighborhood commissioner.

“By allowing a [jail] resident to serve on an ANC and giving them tangible things to work on, we are helping to prepare them to become stronger and more engaged citizens once their sentences end,” Mr. White said before the election.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Whitney Weston for Ward 7 told The Times last week that the election “provides a segment of the population with a voice that will be heard not only across Ward 7 but across the District.”

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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