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Parole support letters vs character reference letters

It can be helpful for prisoners to provide support letters to the Parole Board of Canada or Ontario Parole Board, as the case may be.

Support letters can be helpful because they give the Board insight into what the prisoner’s life will look like if the prisoner is granted parole. Having letters can help show the Board that the prisoner’s release plan has enough structure and support to reduce the prisoner’s risk of offending. Support letters are the only way that the Parole Board can hear from people other than the prisoner, because there is no oral testimony from such people at a parole hearing.

It is important to remember that parole support letters are not the same as character reference letters, which you would normally see in a criminal sentencing. A support letter should outline in as much detail as possible how the writer will support the prisoner while on parole. In a support letter someone may offer housing, financial support, emotional support, assistance with transportation, employment, etc. Generally, it is helpful to provide as much detail as possible to show the Board there is a well-thought-out release plan in place and a strong support network.

Letters written for sentencing are often character reference letters, which describe the prisoner’s good traits, history, potential, etc. Simply reusing a letter written for sentencing for parole may not be the most effective strategy, since these letters often do not address the issues the Board wants to know about. A letter written for sentencing can be a good starting point for a parole support letter, but it should be reviewed and edited to ensure it addresses how the writer will support the prisoner while that prisoner is on parole.

Prisoners can provide as many support letters as they want. However, quality is truly more important than quantity. One or two detailed letters from people who will factor heavily into a prisoner’s life is often fine.

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