Prison or Parole – You Can Help Decide

With the release of another book in my hospital-based Aimee Machado Mystery series, it’s time to explore a new topic that fits into the collection of facts I’ve learned while writing fiction.

This one came up while I was working on RENEWAL, book six in the series. The mystery to be solved in this case does not involve the prisoner directly. The crime that sent him to prison happened a few years earlier. Back then, Aimee was his victim, but now he has crucial information that she needs to help solve a new case. An opportunity arises when she receives a request to provide a victim impact statement at the prisoner’s parole hearing.

Again, I found myself learning fascinating facts I would not have known if I had not been writing fiction. Here’s what I discovered by visiting the California Department of Corrections website.

  • The purpose of a parole hearing is to determine whether an inmate should be released on parole. (Okay, this one is pretty obvious.)
  • Only adult inmates sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole receive these hearings.
  • An example is a sentence to serve a term of “15 years to life.”

To assist you with your thoughts and feelings, they recommend you write your statement on paper. There are specific things that the parole board will want to see in a victim impact statement.

  • What specific physical injuries did you or family members suffer?
  • How long did your injuries last or how long you expect them to last? Detail medical treatment you have received or expect to receive in the future.
  • What medical expenses were incurred?
  • Did the crime impact your ability to work and cause any lost wages?
  • How has this crime has affected you, your family, and those close to you physically, financially, emotionally and even spiritually?
  • How has life has changed for you and those close to you?
  • How has your ability to relate to others changed?
  • Have you received any counseling or other support?
  • What fees have been incurred for counseling or therapy for you and your family?
  • What specific details of the crime and the offender’s actions do you want the panel to know?

Victims and their family members speak last at parole hearings, just before the panel deliberates. Statements usually range from 5-15 minutes in length.

Even though inmates serving such sentences are automatically eligible for a parole hearing 13 months prior to their “minimum eligible parole date,” they are not automatically entitled to parole, and can be held in prison for life. Ultimately, it is the parole board that will determine whether inmates are suitable for parole.

Victims sometimes ask if they have to make a victim impact statement. Whether or not you choose to submit a statement is a decision made by you and your family. It is a voluntary right that you have as a victim of crime; however, without the input of victim impact statements, many offenders may never know the true impact of their actions.
Although it is your choice, it is very important to help the parole board members understand how the crime affected you and those close to you.

If you choose not to attend a hearing but would like your impact statement considered, you can mail or fax your statement to the institution. You can also submit an audio or video statement (with transcript), appear via video conference, or have someone speak on your behalf.

Most of us will never have the need to know these facts in the course of our lives, but it’s reassuring to know that our penal institutions realize the importance of hearing the victims’ voices before a parole decision is made.

RENEWAL, book six in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook formats.

For more specific information about parole hearings and victim impact statements, please visit:

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,to%20work%20and%20lost%20wages.

DEATH IS IN THE AIR: Cadaver Dogs Pick Up the Scent

While writing Primary Source, the fifth book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, I was surprised to discover that many cadaver dogs and their handlers are volunteers. This fascinating topic led to further research and another chance to share facts I’ve learned by writing fiction.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Human Remains Detection Dogs, more commonly referred to as cadaver dogs.

Why does law enforcement rely so heavily on volunteer cadaver dogs? It’s usually a matter of cost. Human remains detection dogs are specialists and are not needed on a daily basis the same way a regular K9 patrol dog is used. Many smaller law enforcement agencies do not have the funding to train and maintain a cadaver dog that may be used only a few times a year.

That brings up another fact. Dogs trained for search and rescue, or to sniff out drugs, are not usually cross-trained as cadaver dogs because of the differences in the types of scents. Drug dogs are trained to recognize drugs, cadaver dogs are trained to recognize human remains.

And just how are those cadaver dogs trained? Most canines take around 18 months to two years to be fully trained. While they are often Labrador retrievers or German shepherds, the breed is not as important as a dog with the requisite traits: good energy, ability to focus, obedience and a good nose. Depending on the breed, a dog’s sense of smell is around 100 to 1,000 times greater than a human’s, but the dog still needs direction and training.

Here’s a term I had not heard until I began this research: pseudo corpse scent. Yep. It’s just what you think: an ersatz odor created to mimic the scent of death. It comes in three different formulas: recently dead, decomposed, and drowned.

However, some expert trainers recommend using the real thing, because human blood has unique organic compounds. Sometimes searches involve dangerous areas like collapsed buildings. Before risking injury to themselves or their dogs, handlers want to be certain the dog is hitting on human remains rather than a dead stray animal, or even a pet. It is legal in the U.S. to obtain bodily components like human placenta and blood, but that is not always easy, so some handlers resort to using their own blood for training purposes.

The dog is often trained to associate the smell of death with its favorite toy, and when ready, it should be trained to search night or day, in various kinds of terrain, from wilderness to rural farmlands to the concrete environment of urban settings. The scent of death could be old dry bones or even a death as recent as one hour before the search began. When the canine discovers the source of the scent, it should sit or lie down calmly. Digging, jumping around, or even urinating could destroy evidence.

Dog owners interested in volunteering to train their animals for this work might benefit by forming relationships with their local law enforcement agencies. Handlers should be physically fit and able to pass background checks. Other important skills include working with maps and GPS. They must also have the disposition to remain composed no matter what their dog might uncover.

Visit the links below or use the keywords “human remains detection dogs” or “cadaver dogs” to search for more information on this topic.

In Primary Source, the fifth book in the Aimee Machado Mystery series, Aimee and Nick are assisted in their search for evidence by Ginger, their Chesapeake Bay retriever recently trained as a volunteer Human Remains Detection Dog.

All of the books in the series are available online in paperback and eBook formats from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and by order from your local bookstore. The series is published by Camel Press, an imprint of Epicenter Press in Kenmore, Washington