In Freetown Central Prison juveniles serve time alongside up to 1,300 adult prisoners in appalling conditions. Overcrowding, malnutrition, cells without toilets, violence, sexual harassment, infectious diseases, poor hygiene and a lack of medical care were all commonplace making life for the already vulnerable young men intolerable. As minors they should never have ended up in a maximum security prison but Sierra Leone's slow road back to a pre civil war reality means that the prisons are bursting at the seams and hordes of former child soldiers and war orphans continue to drift in and out of petty crime.
Upon their release, juvenile former inmates have precious little support from a weak central state, making their rehabilitation and reintegration into society a hugely challenging undertaking. For many, a stint in prison is often punished by ostracism from their families and opportunities for employment in a country still reeling from over a decade of civil war remain extremely limited, with a youth unemployment estimate of 60% being one of the highest rates in West Africa. Recidivism among former juvenile prisoners who find themselves back on the streets is high.
In 2012, Fernando founded Free Minor Africa, a social rehabilitation programme which aims to help juveniles who been in trouble with the law reintegrate into society. Each of the six men in these images was helped by Free Minor Africa to either finish their education, find some form of employment or engage in professional training. In a country beset by social problems, the fate of juveniles in prison is but one of many urgent causes. Yet the real and tangible improvements in these young men's lives gives hope for other juveniles caught on the wrong side of the law across Africa and beyond.
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