By Wilbri John
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.
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.