On Watch

High-Risk Offenders

Posted: Dec 12, 2012 10:33 AM ET Last Updated: Dec 12, 2012 10:33 AM ET

Even judges can struggle with prison math.

I've seen them on the bench during sentencing, working out exactly how long a criminal should spend behind bars. They have to get it right because their word is law.

How much time for each conviction?

Should the sentences be served consecutively or concurrently?

Should there be credit for time served? If so, how much?

A judge has to weigh all those questions in passing sentence. And usually -- probably because they realize they're speaking to a roomful of math morons -- judges will add up all the sentence figures and announce the final total to the courtroom.

But by now, most of us realize that the figure the judge announces does not usually reflect the amount of time a criminal actually spends behind bars. Because once a judge is done his or her calculations, the prison system takes over. There are things an inmate can do to reduce time behind bars, including taking courses and staying out of trouble.

Long story short, most inmates in Canadian prisons can start applying for release after they've served a third of their sentence.

It is very rare that the sentence announced by a judge is the amount of time an inmate actually spends behind bars.

Which brings us to the case of John Patrick Neve.

He was released this week after serving his entire four-year sentence.

Neve brutalized a woman for more than a year, sexually assaulting her, beating her, threatening her and selling her to his friends for sex.

Before those charges could be dealt with, Neve also sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl. He's been assessed as a high risk to re-offend.

Despite all that, the Parole Board did experiment with releasing Neve in August of 2011. It didn't go well.

He failed to tell his parole officer that he had a new girlfriend, which was one of the conditions of his release. Then he scared her so badly, she called the police on him. (See the whole Parole Board report)


Once back in prison, Neve refused to participate in any of the programs that might have reduced his time behind bars. So he served to the very last day. Even then, some people are questioning how and why he's been released.

As to the why, it's simple: he's done his time. All of it.

The how can he be released? Even though he's completed his prison term, authorities are still worried about him. As his release day approached, the Release of High Risk Offender Information Protocol kicked in.

Under that protocol, police gather information on offenders like Neve and take it to a provincial committee made up of representatives from Corrections, Public Safety, police forces, a lawyer, a doctor and five ordinary citizens. They review the evidence and make recommendations to the responsible police agency.

In this case, the committee recommendations went to Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais who decided the public had to be warned about Neve.

That warning went out Monday. Halifax police also got a peace bond against Neve, imposing conditions on him for the next two years. The conditions are designed to protect women and young girls, the people Neve has attacked in the past. Police will be checking on Neve, including knocking on his door for periodic checks.

It's not enough for some, but it's the best our system has to offer.

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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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