For people requesting parole, a letter of recommendation attesting to their good character, personal development and sense of responsibility after they have served time can help convince parole board members that the convict is a good candidate. Writing a character reference letter for a parole hearing can be a difficult undertaking for two reasons: the importance of the letter in the life of the prospective parolee as well as the need to be truthful. Even though the letter will not likely be the deciding factor in the parole decision, if you undertake this obligation, it’s important to be both accurate and sincere, while focusing on the individual’s best qualities and capacity for growth.
Addressing Your Letter of Recommendation for Parole
Each state administers probation and parole through its own designated board, agency, department or other organization. Consequently, the specific type of organization varies from state to state. In some cases, parole duties are assigned to the state’s department of corrections. As a result, it can be a little difficult to pinpoint the person to whom your letter should be addressed and sent.
Whenever possible, it’s always preferable to address your letter of recommendation to a specific individual or individuals by name. Start by looking at official state websites to identify the proper name and title of the addressee. This could be the chairperson or director of the parole board or the members of the board collectively.
Alternatively, you may prefer to simply call the main offices of your state’s department of parole and ask to whom such letters should be addressed. If this information is not disclosed or can’t be located using official websites, it is perfectly permissible to use a general salutation, such as: “To whom it may concern.”
Formatting Your Recommendation Letter for an Inmate
Format the letter as you would any professional business letter, with your address at the top right and the recipient's address below that on the left followed by the date a few lines down.
Reference the parole applicant both by name and by inmate number. Also mention any specific case number the parole board may use in its internal files. The applicant or their attorney should be able to provide this information to you.
Follow the reference line with your salutation. Close the letter with a positive overall statement, such as: “In conclusion, I trust this person and believe he deserves a second chance.” Use a valediction such as “sincerely” to close the letter. Sign your name by hand at the bottom.
Communicating the Applicant’s Good Character
Start the letter by stating how long you have known the parole applicant, then briefly describing your relationship and how you know the person. Restrict your comments to matters on which you have firsthand knowledge. For example, it’s fine to write that the applicant was always punctual, as long as you were in a position to know that for a fact.
Explain how you will be able to help, if appropriate. For example, if the parolee has a job or family support, mentioning these assets in the letter will reassure parole board members that the applicant will be supported for success outside of prison. Likewise, mention any other support services or assets that will help the parolee maintain a sober and positive life, such as housing or transportation to a job.
Finally, focus on things that distinguish this applicant from others and that support the return of the applicant to their community. It may help to focus on a narrative that demonstrates those traits concretely. Think of one or two specific anecdotes that reveal the applicant’s good character through their actions and choices.
Submitting Your Letter for Consideration
Submit your properly formatted letter to the parole board well before the hearing is scheduled or before the board is anticipated to consider the matter of the application. Unless the board’s rules state otherwise, there’s no need to submit multiple copies of the same letter. Each board member will be able to access and read all the letters in the applicant’s file.