TIPS ON WRITING A SUPPORT LETTER
Support letters fall into 2 categories.
They can speak to either one or both. The 2 categories are as follows.
1. Your observance of the change this person has made.
2. Tangible support you are willing to provide this person.
Always include the name and CDCR number of the inmate, as well as your name and complete contact information. Support letters should be current—if you did one for an inmate at his/her last hearing, one or more years ago, do a fresh letter, even if nothing has changed. The board looks at the date on letters and is less likely to consider ‘stale’ documents.
Be specific in the support you can offer: if money, how much and for how long; if housing, for how long, if a job, how much the pay will be, full time or part time; if you can help with transportation and/or getting to and from job searches or self-help (AA, etc) meetings.
Speak to the growth and change in mind-set you have seen in the prisoner; the maturity and good decision making now being evidenced. Don’t appeal to emotions: “Please let Johnny come home, I know he’ll never do anything bad again” is a useless letter.
Explain how you met the inmate; the board wants to be sure you know this person and aren’t just writing a letter because someone asked you to. Commissioners can and do stop hearings to go call the person who wrote a support letter, to be sure it actually came from them, that’s why your contact information on the letter is important, as it adds authenticity to the letter.
Don’t discuss the victims; you can say you’ve seen the great remorse the prisoner now has for what his actions did, but don’t say you know how the victims must feel or that they should forgive. And don’t minimize the inmate’s crime; if he can face what he did, and he must, to be found suitable, you can face it as well.
It’s the quality of the support letters that matters, not the number. Don’t ask everyone you know to write a support letter unless they can truly speak to the change in the inmate and have something to offer. A few good letters are better than numerous vague and unsubstantiated ones. And don’t do petitions—those are meaningless to the board.
If the letter is in Spanish or a language other than English try to have a translation also—most of the board members are not fluent in Spanish and certainly not in other languages.
If you’re writing a letter for a prisoner under SB 261, the Youth Opportunity Parole Hearings, and you knew the person at the time of the crime, speak to your knowledge of what was going on in their lifer at the time of the crime, and how this affected their young decision making process.
Mail 3 copies of the letter: to the Lifer Desk at the prison where the prisoner is housed; to the prisoner and to his lawyer, if you know the name of the lawyer (inmates usually know who will be representing them). Do not mail to the Parole Board. Leave plenty of time for the letters to be received, processed and included in his file. The copies you mail to the prisoner and the attorney are back-up copies.
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