Letters for the Inside

Hands held out through prison bars, holding a book

Letters for the Inside (LFTI) is a nationally-recognized project where student researchers respond to research requests from prisoners. LFTI was founded in 2004 through the Capilano Student Union’s Social Justice Committee. In 2007, LFTI moved to the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) as an Action Group and became a permanent SFPIRG project in 2009. LFTI has since expanded to provide services across Canada and the US and our volunteers have responded to over 1,000 information requests.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic (from 2020-2022) we had to pause LFTI, but as of Spring 2023 we are excited to be up and running again! 

As valued members of our team, volunteer student researchers respond to requests for research and information that we receive from prisoners. Requests for information are as varied as those who write to us. Research ranges from seeking access to education materials and academic articles, to song lyric requests and art that can be used to decorate walls. We also answer questions about research design and information about college admissions. We cannot provide legal advice, as we are not lawyers, nor a legal aid organization, but we connect our writers to legal resources, such as free community resources and organizations that can support them with appeals. Requests are wide ranging, and we continue to get requests that we have never received before – so there are always opportunities to conduct different research. Our hope is that this service can give support and connection to people who would otherwise be isolated while they are confined in prison.

Our applications for our Fall 2024 student cohort are now open! Applications close in June 2024. Training will take place in late September 2024.

Application Process:

  • Fall 2024: Please complete this application no later than 11:59pm on June 30, 2024 
  • January 2024: Applications are closed as our cohort is full
  • If you would like to join LFTI before Fall 2024, please email Emily Capel-Shyu, our Director of Finance, Operations and Prison Justice Advocacy, at advocacy@sfpirg.ca and we may be able to accommodate you

What to expect:

  • LFTI is undertaken from an abolitionist lens and with a social justice practice that recognizes everyone’s dignity, humanity, and right to information.
  • Researchers are expected to respond to requests with care and empathy, while acknowledging the intersecting forms of oppression that disproportionately impact people on the inside.
  • At LFTI we acknowledge the harm caused by the prison industrial complex and the limitations of our carceral, justice, and legal systems.
  • LFTI is intended to provide information to prisoners that feeds their imagination and/or research directions, aiming to improve life on the inside.
  • This program includes a mandatory 1 hour online orientation with additional opportunities for training throughout the term.
  • Volunteers can spend 1 – 10 hours per week responding to requests, so it is flexible to meet your needs and schedule.
  • We are committed to accessibility at SFPIRG, and participation can be adapted if you need to work from home or would rather come to our space in person. LFTI is suitable for students who attend university online and if you are a member of the community outside of SFU.
  • This is often heavy work, and can be triggering for volunteers who have lived experience as community members most impacted by policing and imprisonment. SFPIRG is committed to supporting student researchers in doing this work, whether it be by ensuring access to resources, or providing direct community care.

Our Main Goals

  • To educate SFU students, in an informal way, of some of the challenges faced by prisoners
  • To battle the stigma associated with people who are in prison and provide prisoners with support and compassion while they are navigating an oppressive system
  • To develop relationships between those serving time and the wider community, to include resources to prepare folks for release (such as support groups, housing and job resources)
  • To acknowledge the systematic issues with society that lead to people being in prison
  • To explore what we can do to advocate for underrepresented communities to support and shield them from coming into contact with prison, police and the criminal justice system
  • To conduct wide-ranging research on behalf of prisoners

Become a Student Researcher

SFU students have amazing access to information through the internet and library services – put them to use by becoming a research assistant for someone on the inside! There is no minimum time commitment to volunteer with the project and most of the work can be done from home.

Prisoner with a Research Request?

Send a letter with your request to:

Letters For The Inside
SUB 1410-8888 University Dr
Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6
Unceded Coast Salish Territory

Any other questions?

Please contact: advocacy@sfpirg.ca