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A first in DC: Man still serving time for murder will also serve in an elected city office

WJLA – Washington D.C. logo WJLA – Washington D.C. 6/17/2021 Sam Ford
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WASHINGTON (WJLA) — If you should attend ceremonies or events at the DC Jail, eventually you will meet a 44-year-old inmate named Joel Caston, who is involved enthusiastically in just about any program offered.

For years, he's been involved in mentorship programs and helping fellow inmates with financial literacy.

On Tuesday, after a special election in which most of the ballots cast were by DC Jail inmates, Caston won 48 of the 142 votes cast to be elected a Ward 7 ANC—Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner—for district 7F-07. 

All five candidates in the election were inmates. The election was made possible when the D.C. government passed a law recently allowing inmates to vote.

“I just want to be as instrumental as possible and effective as possible to raise the concerns of my constituents,” he told 7News in a virtual interview.

His district consists of the jail at 19th and Massachusetts SE, the Harriet Tubman Women’s Shelter, and a new housing development called Park Kennedy.

The chairman of ANC 7F Tyrell Holcomb said he welcomes Caston to the ANC. He said the commission will provide Caston with a tablet so he can participate virtually in meetings, which these days are all virtual anyway.

But while Holcomb welcomes Caston, the ANC Commissioner for the Ward 6 district 6B-10, Denise Krepp, does not. That ANC is literally across the street from the jail.

Krepp notes that Caston is incarcerated for first-degree murder.

“What I haven’t heard from the individual last night is: I committed a crime I murdered somebody, and that individual will never come back,” said Krepp, a former military lawyer adding, “for me and my residents I think that’s the first thing you have to say.”

According to court papers, Caston was 18 when he ambushed and killed a rival in a brazen shooting in Anacostia in 1994. He was convicted by a jury in 1996.

He’s served 27 years so far and is hoping eventually to be set free as part of the movement to release youthful murders who have served significant sentences.

But for the moment he says he’s focused on providing a voice for his constituents on a range of issues: “Food, family, safety.”

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