For incarcerated individuals, being granted parole can be a huge step in the right direction in terms of moving past their previous mistakes, and in terms of getting their life back on track.
While parolees are still technically in the custody of the court, and they will still face a number of restrictions regarding their day-to-day life, being on parole will allow them to begin a brand new productive and law-abiding life outside the confines of prison walls.
For friends and family members who have stuck with their loved one throughout their criminal proceedings, knowing that there’s a possibility of them being granted parole can be an exciting time – but it can also lead to a number of questions.
Perhaps the most important question a loved one might ask is:
What can I do to help?
Writing a Parole Support Letter
One of the worst things about watching a loved one go through criminal proceedings – from arrest and trial to sentencing and imprisonment – is that there’s little, if anything, you can do to help them from a legal standpoint.
When a loved one is up for parole, though, you’ll finally have the ability to speak up for them. While the parole board will consider a number of factors in addition to your testimony, a powerful and professional letter of support can be one of the deciding factors as to whether or not your loved one is granted parole.
In this article, we’re going to explain how to write a parole support letter, as well as what information to include within the letter in order for it to be effective.
Before we dive in, though, let’s quickly discuss why these letters of support are so important in the eyes of the parole board.
Why Should You Write a Letter of Support?
As we said, a well-written and persuasive parole support letter can help sway a parole board’s opinion with regard to a specific inmate.
(That is, as long as the inmate has exhibited a variety of other positive traits throughout their sentence, as well. We’ll talk more about this in a bit.)
Of course, there are a number of reasons why a letter of support can be so persuasive in the first place.
First of all, writing a parole support letter allows you to describe your incarcerated loved one to the parole board not as an inmate or a criminal, but as a person.
You can use this letter to discuss positive experiences you’ve had with your loved one in the past, as well as times in which they exhibited strength, compassion, responsibility, or any other positive trait throughout their lifetime.
You can also use this letter to the parole board to explain that you and others within your close-knit circle are prepared to act as a network of support for your loved one.
Since one of the main worries of parole board members is that incarcerated individuals may fall back in with their previous group of friends if granted parole, explaining that you’ll be there for your loved one can help alleviate these worries.
Finally, by writing a letter in support of your incarcerated loved one, you’re telling the parole board that you have complete confidence that your loved one will use their time on parole to continue bettering themselves and moving forward in life.
While, of course, this is a “your word against theirs” situation, it will still certainly help your loved one’s cause for you to place this claim in writing for all to see.
Who Should Write Parole Support Letters?
The short answer to this question is:
Basically, anyone who has anything positive to say about the individual in question.
Getting a bit more specific, parole support letters typically come from the following individuals:
- Close friends and family members (and even not-so-close relatives – as long as they have an authentic relationship with the inmate)
- Well-known and respected members of the community who have (or have had) a personal or professional relationship with the inmate
- Counselors, teachers, and mentors of the inmate – both before their conviction and during their sentence
- Prison staff and related personnel who have had positive engagements with, and seen growth from, the inmate
Since each of the individuals mentioned above will have had different experiences with the inmate in question, each letter of support should touch on different aspects of the person’s life.
For example, a former employer might discuss the inmate’s ability to take initiative in any circumstance, while a counselor might talk about how the inmate has grown to be a role model for other incarcerated individuals throughout their sentence.
That said, it’s best to solicit letters of support from a variety of individuals (rather than, for example, from five family members who will likely all have similar things to say about their loved one).
Since parole boards typically only consider up to about ten letters of support per parole hearing, it’s best to use this opportunity to provide as much positive information about your loved one as possible.
Parole Support Letter Format
We can’t stress this enough:
Parole support letters need to be properly formatted in order for the parole board to take them seriously.
First and foremost, your letter of support needs to be typed on a plain white piece of paper. While you may include a personal letterhead if you so choose, this isn’t necessary; however, if you’re writing in a professional capacity, then you should definitely do so.
At the top right-hand side, include the date on which you are writing the letter. You’ll also include the date of the parole hearing within the body of the letter later on – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The greeting of your parole support letter should read exactly as follows (without quotation marks):
“Dear Honorable Members of the Parole Board:”
Be sure to use correct capitalization here, as well as a colon, rather than a comma, at the end of the greeting. Also, be sure that your greeting is aligned on the left-hand side of the page.
Throughout the body of your letter, be sure to separate your paragraphs by a single line. We’ll get into the content of these paragraphs in a bit, which will also help you better understand how they should be formatted.
Your closing should read “Sincerely,” followed by your full legal name on the next line of the page. Both of these lines should be aligned to the right–hand side of the page.
Of course, you’ll want to be sure that your letter is well written, and free of spelling or grammatical errors. Before you place it in an envelope to be sent out, proofread it slowly to ensure this correctness; it might also be a good idea to have a friend or family member check over it once or twice as well, just in case.
When addressing the envelope, you’ll want to find the exact address of the parole board handling your loved one’s case. This information can typically be found on your state government’s website; alternatively, you can simply search Google for “(State Name) Parole Board Address.”
As with your letter, it’s best to type both the recipient’s address and your return address onto labels, then place these labels onto the envelope.
Now, as for the content to include within the letter…
Parole Support Letter Content
Your letter of support should contain four main paragraphs as follows:
- An introduction of who you are
- An explanation of your relationship to the inmate
- Your testimony regarding your belief that your loved one should be granted parole
- A detailed explanation of your testimony
Let’s break down each of these paragraphs in greater detail.
The first paragraph of your parole support letter should be short and to the point.
Here, you’ll introduce yourself, and also explain that you’re writing in support of your loved one’s request for parole. You’ll want to include your full name, as well as your loved one’s full name. Also, be sure to include information regarding the date of the parole hearing, as well.
My name is Jonathan Michael Smith. I’m writing this letter in support of Anthony Robert Wright, who will be eligible for parole on June 5, 2018.
After introducing yourself and clarifying who you are writing in support of, you’ll want to share a bit more detail regarding how you know each other.
Within this paragraph, you should be as specific as possible with the information you provide. For example, if you worked together, explain exactly what position each of you held, what company you had worked for, and the span of time you worked together. If you went to school together, state the name of the school, as well as the grades in which you attended together.
Also, try to provide information that explains the closeness of your relationship to the inmate as best as possible. For example, you might mention that you worked side-by-side with them for two full years, or that you shared carpool responsibilities with them over a certain period of time. Basically, your goal here is to show the parole board that you truly know the individual up for parole – and aren’t simply a mere acquaintance.
The third paragraph of your parole support letter serves two purposes.
Firstly, you’ll want to explain that you believe the incarcerated individual is a good person who made a mistake, and that you don’t believe they will reoffend ever again. At this point, you’ll want to focus on all the positive things they’ve accomplished and done in their life before the offense. You might include anecdotes about their professional or personal life, any charitable act they’ve partaken in over the years, or anything else that paints them in a positive light.
Secondly, you’ll want to express your belief that your loved one has grown – and will continue to grow – from their experience in prison. More importantly, you want to express your belief that they will keep working on this growth once they’re granted parole. In other words, you want to assure the parole board that the inmate isn’t simply looking to get out of prison – but to do so in order to be a productive member of society.
(Note: It’s incredibly important not to minimize or rationalize their criminal behavior, here. Instead of using language such as “it was an accident” or “that’s not like him at all,” talk about how your loved one has shown remorse for their actions, and how they’re prepared to put in the effort necessary to move on with their life.)
The final paragraph of your letter will piggyback off the previous one, explaining specifically why you believe your claims to be true.
Regarding your belief that the inmate has a low chance of reoffending or breaking the terms of their parole, there are a number of things you might choose to talk about, including:
- Employment and/or educational opportunities your loved one will have after being released from prison
- The various members of your loved one’s support network who will help them reintegrate into society and continue to grow
- Your loved one’s goals, as well as any plans they’ve shared with you as to how they intend to reach these goals
Additionally, you’ll want to discuss any specific improvements or positive changes you’ve seen in your loved one throughout their sentence:
- A clean record of behavior during their incarceration
- Any educational opportunities they’ve taken advantage of during their sentence (either self-driven or administered by the institution)
- Any duties and/or work they performed or volunteered for throughout their sentence
As you begin to wrap up your letter, you again want to reinforce your loved one’s goals, as well as the game plan they’ve created to reach these goals, should they be granted parole. In support of this statement, you want to make it absolutely clear that your loved one cannot possibly follow through with their plan, nor can they reach their goals, while confined within the walls of a physical prison.
In order to write an effective and passionate parole support letter for your loved one, you need to know for certain that your words are God’s honest truth.
In order to know your words are God’s honest truth, you need to stay in close contact with your loved one from the moment they enter prison to the day they’re first up for parole.
Pigeonly enables you to keep in touch with incarcerated individuals in a number of different ways. Check out our Services page to learn more about how we can help you and your loved one.