The externs in professional mode

Sunday, 29 April 2012

22 Prisoners Freed

By Wilbri John

I am grateful for this opportunity I have been given to help people in need.  It is a very good experience to see people deserving justice get justice.  I was very fortunate to be among the group that interviewed thirteen women in the female prison that were imprisoned for no just cause.  They were grabbed from their homes and due to the fact that they were all illiterates, they pleaded guilty to loitering without being aware of the consequences.  They were sentenced to six months imprisonment.  Due to the hard work of AdvocAid, their release was secured after having spent two months in prison.  When I learnt they had been released, I was thrilled.  Just being a part of such a case made me feel that I was a big help in making a difference in their lives.

AdvocAid Press Release:


22 people (7 men, 12 women, 4 juveniles) convicted of loitering and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment at Pademba Road and Freetown Female Prisons, were dramatically released on 2 February 2012 after local civil society organisation, AdvocAid, requested a summary review by the Chief Justice. 

The conviction resulted in the female prison population almost doubling overnight, straining the already limited prison resources. The prisoners were unable to spend Christmas with their families and the women did not have time to put childcare arrangements in place before their arrest and sentence. 

The exact details of the “loitering” offence are unclear but it supposedly took place between 10am to noon on a Tuesday in December 2011 around the Tower Hill area of Freetown. Most of the accused were outside or even in their homes conducting normal daily activities. Whilst the maximum sentence for loitering is 1 month under the Public Order Act 1965, the usual sentence is a caution and discharge or a fine of Le 50,000 (fifty thousand Leones). By 2 February 2012, the prisoners had already served 7 weeks in prison (well over the 4 week maximum sentence). Among those convicted was a 9 month pregnant woman, who gave birth in prison, a 13 year old boy and 3 other juveniles. The Magistrate sentenced 36 persons to imprisonment but, due to circumstances yet unclear, only 22 were actually in custody and serving the sentence. Several of the detainees were injured, allegedly by the police, and one female detainee, who was 9 months pregnant at the time of arrest, delivered her baby in prison.

AdvocAid, which provides legal aid, education and welfare support to female detainees and their children, was able to act quickly upon discovery of this situation. AdvocAid staff members met with the convicted persons to ascertain the circumstances of their arrest and recorded their statements. Based on this information, AdvocAid submitted a request for a summary review to the Chief Justice. 

On behalf of the released prisoners, AdvocAid would like to thank the Honourable Chief Justice for acting speedily to remedy the error.  Thanks also to all AdvocAid staff, volunteers and the Fourah Bay college legal extern students who assisted with drafting the review application and interviewing the affected persons. Finally our appreciation to our donors: Open Society Foundations, Mama Cash and Open Society Justice Initiative who made it all possible.

AdvocAid – supporting justice, education and reintegration for women and their children in conflict with the law in Sierra Leone

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