Parole is release to serve the remainder of a sentence outside of prison upon giving one’s word of honor to abide by certain restrictions. Courts may specify in a sentence how much time must be served before a prisoner is eligible, as in, say, “15 years to life.” Good conduct while incarcerated in and of itself does not necessarily guarantee parole. Other factors are most commonly the establishment of a permanent residence and immediate, gainful employment or some other clearly visible means of self-support upon release.
At a parole hearing, the individual meets with member(s) of the Parole Board and is interviewed. If denied, a next parole hearing is usually set for a few years from that date. Letters to the Parole Board submitted prior to the hearing help establish community awareness of good conduct and accomplishments as well as community support upon release with housing, employment or other aspects of adjusting to outside life. You may also contact the specific prison and ask them for any guidelines they might offer. Many prisons have this information available on their websites.
For NY-state held prisoners, there is an online calendar for NY state parole hearings that can be used to verify that a particular prisoner is in fact going before the board on a given month. Address letters to: NYS Board of Parole, 1220 Washington Ave, Building 2 Albany, New York 12226-2050, or submit comments online.*
For federal prisoners, call the U.S. Parole Commission at (202) 346-7000 to find out the scheduled date of the hearing (note: officials at this number may respond better to inquiries from lawyers or the legal team). Typically, there is a designated week that hearings will be held at a given facility, and the Parole Commission should also know which Board member will be conducting the hearings. Address letters to: Case Operations, U.S. Parole Commission, 90 K Street N.E., Third Floor, Washington, D.C. 20530.*
*In many cases, the support people for the prisoner will want to receive your comments prior to submission so first try contacting their support with your offer to write a letter before you submit it.
Guidelines for Support Letters:
-Type on letterhead
-Date the letter (While letters may be reviewed even after a hearing, make sure the letter is received at least 2-4 weeks before to ensure plenty of time to receive and review.)
-Add a subject line such as “In regards to: Prisoner’s Name & ID Number”
-If you know a specific name of someone on the prison’s Parole Board, you may address them. Otherwise, begin your letter with “Dear Honorable Members of the Parole Board” followed by a colon (:).
-Sign the letter
-Send the original wherever the support people have indicated they would like it to go. For instance, they may want the original sent to the Parole Board that oversees the prison where the individual is held, as well as copies sent to the prisoner, and the support group. If sending directly to the Board, reference the individual’s name, DOC # and hearing date on the back side of the envelope.
First, include biographical information such as your name, age, occupation (if you have been employed in the same field for some time, note that in your first paragraph) and relationship with the person up for parole.
Secondly, acknowledge that you are aware of their conviction.
Describe why you believe they deserve the chance for parole. Tell about positive activities while incarcerated such as education, positive attitude and feelings of responsibility and remorse.
Finish your support letter by telling how you will provide support once they are granted parole. Your support might be financial, such as a place to live, use of a vehicle, or help finding job offers; or it could be emotional such as accountability, advice and encouragement.