Whether your loved one is applying for clemency with the Governor’s Office or preparing for a parole suitability hearing, support letters are very important and should not be written without an outline of the elements necessary to be credible, impactful, and successful. I have developed these guidelines for clients’ family and friends who wish to support their incarcerated loved one for commutation or parole hearing.
Your support letter should begin identifying who you are, what is your relationship to the prisoner, and the reason you are writing the support letter (to support an application for clemency, parole, etc.). Next, you should indicate how long you’ve known the prisoner, and how you maintain contact (visits, phone calls, letters) with the prisoner since their incarceration. Always be honest. Don’t embellish.
You should indicate what is your personal knowledge of the prisoner’s rehabilitation, if you know. If you’ve known them from before they were incarcerated, please identify something from their past that you didn’t like about them to contrast it with who they are today, and the characteristics you do like. For instance, “... Before Johnny went to prison, he used to have a bad attitude. But, I haven’t noticed that in him in many years.”
Remember, your loved one committed a terrible crime. You may want to paint them in the best light possible, but that isn’t being objective. When you identify something negative from their past and then follow with personal information that s/he has changed, your credibility is established and your support letter will carry more weight. If you have only known the person since they’ve been incarcerated, please share that you are knowledgeable of the facts of his/her past and their crime, either from the prisoner or other information you’ve looked into, and now know the prisoner is not that person any longer.
This is a support letter which means that you are offering your support. This could come in many different ways: financial, housing, employment, transportation, emotional, spiritual, counseling, accountability, etc. Be specific as to the support you are able to provide. Don’t worry if it’s not everything you would like to do. Whatever YOU can provide is perfect. If you’re offering financial, housing, or employment assistance, identify how much, for how long, and under what conditions. You don’t want to be vague about this. If you are limited to assisting him/her upon release with locating housing, job, etc. please indicate such.
Remember, the support letter should demonstrate that the prisoner has ties in the community (through you), and a comprehensive network of support to successfully transition back into society. This support will come in many different forms and from many different people.
Be sure to provide your contact information in the top right corner (name, address, phone #, email address). Also, be sure to sign and date your letter. As well, if you can provide photographs of you and your loved one before prison and/or in visiting that would be great; and any family photos of yourself to show that you are a real person and not merely words on a page.
Your support letter should not be more than 6 months old at the time of clemency application submission or parole suitability hearing. For the latter, you should send the original support letter to the Lifer Desk at the institution where your loved one is housed—to the prison’s address. Be sure to forward a copy to your loved one, his/her attorney, and keep a copy for your records.