Due to security concerns in Sierra Leone when the Special Court was established, the first (temporary) courthouse and detention facility were established in 2003 on Bonthe Island, where eight Special Court indictees subsequently made their initial appearances. The Bonthe Island facility was, at the time, a disused compound owned by the Sierra Leone Prison Service, and the Special Court carried out extensive work on the compound and associated buildings to make them habitable. The detention staff at Bonthe Island were made up of Special Court security officers and supervisors. The indictees were relocated to Freetown in August 2003, and in May 2010 the refurbished compound was formally returned to the Sierra Leone Prison Service.
In early 2003, the Special Court Registrar determined that the Court, to provide the required standard of care, the Court needed to recruit qualified prison supervisors with experience in dealing with organised groups, as opposed to dealing with individual detainees. This was especially urgent as leaders of three warring factions were detained together. The first international detention staff members arrived at the Court in June 2003.
Meanwhile in Freetown, the Special Court was working to renovate a crumbling site in the suburb of New England, owned by the National Prison Authority. The 11-1/2 acre site became home to the Special Court. One part of it, had been a holding centre for short-term prisoners, and was deemed an ideal location to house detainees.
The new Special Court Detention Facility comprised two blocks, each with nine cells and an exercise yard, and by August 2003 it was ready to receive the Bonthe Island detainees. Under heavy security, the eight detainees were flown by United Nations helicopter to the middle of the Special Court complex. They were then moved the short remaining distance by vehicle and re-housed in the new facility.