Joel Castón

Joel Castón, former Prison Scholar, Appointed to D.C. Sentencing Commission

People that are closest to the problem have the solution. Let’s empower them.

Joel Castón

On February 6, 2024 Joel Castón made history as the first formerly incarcerated person to be appointed to the D.C. Sentencing Commission (DCSC). 

Castón began working with the DCSC immediately, attending his first meeting on Feb. 20. He believes that his dual perspective, as a formerly incarcerated person and a D.C. resident, will be invaluable to the commission. 

At his first meeting with the DCSC, Castón dove right in. He voted on a proposal that would change the way the officials talk about incarcerated people and replace the word “inmate” with the word “resident” in all legislation. Castón was glad he was there to share his thoughts about the importance of human-centered language and how his experiences have shaped his view of the issue.

“I got to be there and work with officials who are writing the language that affects thousands of Washingtonians,” Castón said. “It shows how important this platform is.”

Castón, and many other members of the DCSC, believe that he will be able to bridge the gap between those living inside the D.C. Jail and those creating policies that directly affect the incarcerated community. Castón understands what it is like to be convicted, sentenced, and incarcerated. He will share his experiences with the rest of the DCSC to create guidelines that consider the well-being of everyone involved in the criminal legal system and the community at large.

Castón’s dual-perspective and first-hand account of the correctional system are seen as an advantage by some, but others believe that his experiences will lead to him advocating for lenient or even permissive policies. 

“I have a duty to be just, fair, and equitable. I can be just, fair, and equitable, just like everyone else. I reject the notion that I can’t be those things just because I am justice-impacted,” Castón said. 

While this was a historic appointment for the DCSC, this was not anything new to Castón. This appointment is now the fourth public office position that he has held. Castón served as the Commissioner and the Treasurer of Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) District 7F and was also appointed to be the Co-Chair of the D.C. Redistricting Task Force.

Castón acknowledges the significance of his achievements as a justice-impacted person, but to him, it was just another step in his lifelong journey as a public servant, that began long before his release in 2021.

Public Service and Education

Castón has been advocating for the education and personal development of justice-impacted people for several years. In 2018, Castón helped establish the Young Men Emerging program at the D.C. Jail, which connects newly incarcerated men aged 18-25 to older mentors and other counseling and educational opportunities.

Castón has a first hand understanding of how important education is for incarcerated people, as he was one of the first students in the Georgetown Prisons Scholars Program back in 2018. 

“The Georgetown Prisons Scholars Program has had such a huge impact on my life and an impact on the lives of many other incarcerated people.”

The Georgetown Prisons Scholars Program, created by the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative, offers credit-bearing classes to those incarcerated in the D.C. Jail. Castón took classes during his incarceration on economics, history, civics, and more. 

In one of his courses, Castón read Locking Up Our Own by James Forman and learned about D.C.’s ​​ANCs, which consist of locally elected representatives. He was inspired by Forman’s descriptions of civic engagement. 

At the time, Castón had been participating in efforts fighting for the restoration of voting rights for incarcerated people in the District. When the Restore the Vote Amendment Act of 2020 was passed, Castón saw an opportunity and ran for an open ANC seat 7F. He was elected on June 15, 2021, becoming the first incarcerated person in D.C. history to win elected office. 

Today, aside from working with the DCSC, Castón spends his time traveling and teaching his self-published popular investment modules, Currency Catchers, to formerly incarcerated people, with the National Reentry Network. During his incarceration, Castón studied the stock market and learned about the importance of financial literacy. He devotes himself to educating formerly incarcerated people about financial literacy to give them the resources and skills they need to build credit and support themselves. 

Moving Forward

Castón looks forward to working with the DCSC and diving into the work they have to do. He hopes that more justice-impacted individuals, like himself, will be included in conversations surrounding sentencing and incarceration. 

“People that are closest to the problem have the solution. Let’s empower them,” Castón said.

He says that he is “honored to have this opportunity” but at the same time, he acknowledges how justice-impacted people are barred from participating in democratic processes. 

“Men and women who are incarcerated are doing great things and leading programming and teaching. These skills are transferable as they come out,” Castón said, explaining how incarcerated people can become community leaders, if given the chance.

Castón is especially grateful to Quincy L. Booth, former director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, who gave him the opportunity to become a community leader during his incarceration. Booth allowed Castón and former Georgetown Prison Scholar, Michael Woody, to help develop new programming for the residents of the D.C. Jail, which led to the creation of Young Men Emerging. 

“I have a lot to learn and a lot to gain. I am up for the challenge,” Castón said. Castón knows that he will face adversity in his role at the DCSC, but because of his eagerness to learn and dedication, he will overcome the obstacles and better the lives of other justice-impacted people in his community. 

Prison Scholars