Prison and detention center conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, lack of clean water, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: On July 26, the HRCSL reported unhygienic conditions in the male detention cells of Central, Kissy, Waterloo, Moyamba, and Tongo police stations. Some cells in Tongo station were littered with garbage and one had a leaky roof. The HRCSL reported poor toilet facilities in all stations except Magburuka and East End. It also observed illegal detention at Congo Cross, Magburuka, and Tongo Field police stations. During inspections in February and April, juveniles shared the same space as adults. Prison authorities issued bedding and blankets to inmates at the Freetown Female and Male Correctional Centers. Some mattresses were placed on the floor at the Male Correctional Center. In Moyamba some inmates slept on the bare floor using blankets as mattresses. As of August 2016, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Prison Watch (PW) reported that, with the exception of the Freetown Female Correctional Center at the Special Court for Sierra Leone (FCCSL), the country’s 19 prisons and detention centers were seriously overcrowded. PW reported, however, that with the exception of the FCCSL, conditions in detention centers in the rest of the country, including lighting and ventilation for male prisoners, were generally better than for female prisoners.
As of October the HRCSL confirmed that no prison or detention center facility held male and female prisoners together.
As of August 22, the country’s 19 prisons, designed to hold 1,935 inmates, held 4,148. The Freetown Male Correctional Center, designed to hold 324 inmates, held 2,059 persons, including 926 convicted prisoners, 284 prisoners on remand, and 849 prisoners on trial. Some prison cells measuring six feet by nine feet held nine or more prisoners. As of August 22, prison authorities reported seven deaths in prisons and detention facilities due to malaria, respiratory infections, and typhoid fever but claimed none of the deaths was due to actions of staff members or other prisoners.
Human rights observers reported detention conditions remained below minimum international standards because of overcrowding, unhygienic conditions, and insufficient medical attention. Prison cells often lacked proper lighting, bedding, ventilation, and protection from mosquitoes. Most prisons did not have piped water systems, and some prisoners lacked sufficient access to potable drinking water.
PW reported that to control overcrowding in common areas, authorities confined prisoners to their cells for long periods without an opportunity for movement.
The Bureau of Prisons received only 16,600 leones ($2.27) per prisoner per day for food rations. Conditions in police station holding cells were poor, especially in small stations outside Freetown. Cells were often dark with little ventilation. Overcrowding in some police cells continued to be a problem. Lack of adequate physical facilities created life-threatening conditions for detainees. Inmates slept on bare floors, using their own clothes or cartons as bedding, and used waste buckets as toilets.
Few prisoners had access to adequate medical facilities, and clinics lacked supplies and medical personnel to provide basic services. One doctor staffed the Freetown Male Correctional Center clinic. There were 51 nurses in the country’s 19 prisons and detention centers. Prisons outside Freetown sent patients to local government hospitals and clinics. Authorities allowed only emergency patients to visit the clinic outside of the assigned schedule. Officials treated female prisoners as outpatients or referred them to local hospitals for special care, but doctors and nurses in these hospitals often refused to treat prisoners or provided inferior care because of the government’s failure to pay medical bills. Prison authorities and the HRCSL reported there was no discrimination against prisoners with disabilities, and PW reported it had no information regarding abuse of prisoners with disabilities.
PW reported a shortage of prison staff, which resulted in a lack of security that endangered prisoners’ safety.
Several prisons held infants, most of whom were born in prison and initially kept there with their mothers. Once these children were weaned, authorities released them to family members or to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender, and Children’s Affairs, which placed them in foster care. The ministry was responsible for all services except security in juvenile facilities. Authorities sent offenders under age 18 to “approved schools” or reformatory institutions. Although authorities made some effort to avoid detaining juveniles with adults, they frequently imprisoned minors with adult offenders. PW reported authorities often sent young adults over age 18 to the approved schools, while some children under 18 were sent to prison. As of August the National Legal Aid Board reported that, unlike previous years, authorities no longer held children under 18 years of age with adults at the Freetown Male Correctional Center.
At times police officers had difficulty determining a person’s age, given the lack of documentation, and they often depended on circumstantial evidence, such as possession of a voter registration card or affidavits from parents, who may have reasons to lie about their child’s age. In some cases police officers inflated the ages of juveniles to escape blame for detaining them. Several boys reported they were victims of physical and sexual abuse, including sodomy, by older prisoners. In the three juvenile facilities, detainees did not have adequate access to food and education and sometimes were unable to attend court hearings due to lack of transportation.
A lack of juvenile detention centers in many districts meant minors were frequently detained with adults in police cells.
In most cases pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. The attorney general reported that as of August 22, of the 4,148 persons held in the prisons and detention centers, only 1,941 had been convicted.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsman, but senior prison officials were available to respond to complaints. NGOs reported that prisoners raised concerns to them about prison conditions, on condition that their concerns, if raised to prisons authorities, would be anonymous.
Although authorities officially permitted regular family visits, according to NGOs family members often had to pay bribes to gain visiting privileges.
Prisoners refrained from filing complaints directly with prison authorities because they believed such actions would spur retaliation by judicial authorities.
Prison rights advocacy groups reported that authorities generally investigated credible allegations of mistreatment of prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. International monitors had unrestricted access to the prisons, detention centers, and police holding cells. The HRCSL monitored prisons on a monthly basis.