Q&A: When Helping Your Loved One In Prison Goes Too Far
If you have a friend or family member behind bars, you know how badly you want to help them. We talk to people with loved ones in jail or prison all the time.
Helping your loved one in prison is a good thing.
You want to want to mail sure corrections officers are treating your friend or family member okay. You want to make sure your loved ones are getting what they need to stay alive and live as comfortably as they can. Or you just want to make sure they know you still care about them.
No matter what you’re trying to do, we know you’re trying to help. And there a number of different ways you can do that. But there are also ways that your help can go too far.
It’s impossible to predict what will help and what will hurt in your loved one’s particular situation. But we’ve talked to several people who currently have or have had loved ones in prison. Here is some what they had to say…
Question: Are you helping your loved one by calling their lawyer?
In general, it doesn’t hurt to call your loved one’s attorney. In fact, there are a lot of circumstances in which calling them can help. Maybe you know witnesses who can help your loved one. Maybe you know information the prosecution doesn’t. Getting this information to your loved one’s attorney can help a lot.
But you also have to understand that most lawyers are really busy. And you also have to understand that information that means a lot to you might not mean a lot to them. It can feel like an attorney isn’t taking your seriously if they dismiss information you think is important. But, at least in some situations, their decision to do so makes sense.
For example, you might want to give your loved one’s lawyer a bunch of information about witnesses who could testify that your loved one would never commit a crime. These are generally known as character witnesses. And, in a lot of cases, it benefits your loved one not to call them at trial. So, an attorney’s decision not to present this evidence at trial might be a smart one.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the attorney should refuse to look into the witnesses and what information they have. The only way a lawyer can make a smart strategic decision about what to do with that information is by knowing the information first.
This warning comes with another caveat, too. Constantly calling and emailing your loved one’s lawyer can be a problem. Your loved one’s attorney has an ethical obligation to represent them zealously. But if they’re annoyed with you, it’s human nature to be annoyed with your loved one as well. That doesn’t make it right — but it’s still reality.
Question: Are you helping your loved one by calling their facility?
In a similar way, calling your loved one’s facility is also potentially good and potentially bad. Ordinarily, you’ll talk to your loved one directly using a service like JPay. But if you don’t hear from your loved one for longer than usual, you might be tempted to call their facility.
To be honest, you’ll probably have a hard time getting information from the facility staff. They might not answer the phone. And, even if they do, they might not tell you anything or what they tell you won’t be accurate. This is unfortunate. But it’s also common.
You should talk about what to do in a situation like this with your loved one. Your loved one probably has a good feel for whether calling the facility if you don’t hear from them is a good idea.
On the one hand, making sure your loved one is okay is a great thing. On the other, you don’t want jail or prison staff to retaliate against your loved one because they think you’re annoying.
Again, this isn’t the way things should work. But it’s a reality. And if you’re constantly calling and emailing your loved one’s facility, the facility staff will start to know your — and, more importantly, your loved one’s — name. That could be a bad thing.
Question: Are you helping your loved one by filing a lawsuit on their behalf?
Answer: Maybe. But probably not.
In general, you can’t file a lawsuit on behalf of your loved one in prison. Unless you’re an attorney and legally representing your friend or family member behind bars, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf.
If you try to file a lawsuit on their behalf, the most likely outcome is that it will be dismissed. We’ve already seen this happen in cases involving First Step Act Time Credits. A loved one files a habeas petition, but the judge dismisses it without considering it because it was improperly filed.
Helping your loved one in jail or prison is important. But it’s also complicated. Ask your loved one about what will help and won’t help them. And then listen to them. If they say calling their lawyer or their facility won’t help, listen to them. If they say filing a lawsuit on their behalf won’t help, listen to them.
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