Joel Castón, an incarcerated individual elected as advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 7, will not be transferred out of the Washington, D.C., Central Detention Facility following reports of unsatisfactory conditions in the building.
The U.S. Marshals Service conducted an inspection of the D.C. Jail in October, in which they found unsuitable conditions, including unsanitary conditions and the staff at the D.C. Jail punitively denying incarcerated individuals access to food and water. In response to the inspection’s findings, 400 incarcerated people were set to be relocated out of the D.C. Jail to a prison in Lewisburg, Pa. Originally, Castón was a part of this group.
According to Castón, being transferred to another state would have robbed him of the opportunity to carry out his duties as an elected official.
“It really puts me at a complete disadvantage to be able to carry out my job as an elected official, to advocate on behalf of my constituents here, if I am not at my post,” Castón wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Castón is the first incarcerated elected official in the District, having won a historic election on June 15 to gain a seat on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F. Before his election, he was a student of the Georgetown University Prisons and Justice Initiative, a program that offers incarcerated individuals the opportunity to take credit- or non-credit-bearing classes taught by Georgetown professors.
A petition launched by Castón’s team urging the U.S. Parole Commission and the U.S. Marshals Service not to remove Castón from the D.C. Jail garnered over 400 electronic signatures. The U.S. Parole Commission announced Nov. 9 that Castón would not be transferred, allowing him to continue to carry out his role as advisory neighborhood commissioner and avoid being separated from his friends and family in and around the D.C. Jail.
Serving the constituents of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7F and ensuring that they are heard and represented remains the top priority, according to Castón.
“I am relieved that I get to stay at my post and serve my constituents,” Castón wrote.
As an advisory neighborhood commissioner, Castón is in the process of working to bring attention to the unsuitable conditions within the D.C. Jail through his role as ANC commissioner, according to Castón’s team.
“When Joel was alerted that he would be among the people transferred, he was in the midst of preparing his testimony for a DC Council hearing confronting conditions at the jail,” Castón’s team wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The timing of this news presented the stunning injustice of removing Joel from his constituents when they need him most.”
According to Castón’s team, now that efforts to prevent his relocation succeeded, the new goal will be to move up his release date, which is currently set for Dec. 22.
The U.S. Marshals Service inspection of the D.C. Jail came after defendants who are being held due to their involvement with the Jan. 6 insurrection raised concerns about conditions in the facility.
It is unacceptable that conditions in the D.C. Jail only came under inspection when insurrection defendants complained, according to Castón’s team.
“The timing of and nature of the response absolutely shows a discrepancy between how the system responds to incarcerated individuals depending on their race,” Castón’s team wrote. “For years, the DC Jail has ignored complaints on the conditions of the jail that have been raised by advocates and family members of the mostly Black residents.”
According to Castón, the decision to prioritize the issues raised by Jan. 6 defendants while ignoring other complaints invalidates the concerns of all incarcerated individuals at the D.C. Jail.
“My constituents feel like they have been used as a ploy. They feel like they have been used as political pawns,” Castón wrote. “There’s a lot of fear. There’s a lot of anger.”
This article was updated Nov. 16 to remove the word “inmates” from the headline.