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D.C. Council To Decide Whether Man Formerly Incarcerated For Murder Should Help Shape Sentencing Guidelines

The D.C. Council is set to decide Tuesday whether a man who spent 27 years behind bars for murder should serve on a city commission that drafts and modifies criminal sentencing guidelines, The Washington Post reports. Proponents argue that the appointment would give the panel a new perspective on the issue of incarceration, while the District’s top prosecutor warned that the nominee, Joel Castón, could push the commission in a soft-on-crime direction. Castón said Matthew M. Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District, misrepresented his character and incorrectly assumed his perspective simply because he has been incarcerated. “I’m being caught up in a political fight and I’m being used as a political pawn when this is my life,” he said. “This is something that I believe in. I believe in reaching individuals who, unfortunately in the community I came from, never had a chance.”

In 2021, while still a prisoner, Castón was elected to the D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission, becoming the first incarcerated person voted into public office in the city. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who nominated Castón to the 12-member sentencing commission, said that the panel expressed interest in having a previously incarcerated person join the group. Linden Fry, the commission’s executive director, said members began discussing the addition of a person who had been incarcerated after they learned “how other sentencing commissions in the United States have added returned-citizen members.” “A formerly incarcerated, justice-involved individual can offer a relevant and unique point of view unavailable to other members,” Fry said. However, Graves questioned Castón’s integrity and said the nominee would be likely to advocate for lesser sentencing ranges that would make it even harder for prosecutors to secure prison time. At a council hearing in December, Castón said, “If confirmed, I would be a fierce advocate for sentences that balance accountability, public well-being and human dignity.”


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