Prisoners left without clean underwear and socks for up to 11 weeks at HMP Wandsworth, claim their lawyers

Three detainees at HMP Wandsworth were left without access to clean underwear or socks for up to 11 weeks between October 2020 and late March this year, their lawyers allege.

For one of the prisoners, this occurred while on remand, awaiting the conclusion of his case, said his lawyer Edward Jones, of Hodge, Jones & Allen Solicitors (HJA).

Jones claimed his client arrived at the prison in the clothing he was arrested in, unable to pack a bag in advance.

He said: “There was no provision of spare underwear or socks by the prison, and his family have been unable to send him anything new or fresh due to COVID restrictions.”

Usually, detainees at the prison receive five pairs of underwear, tracksuit bottoms, t-shirts and socks to rotate, clean and wash.

A prison spokesperson stated: “Laundry facilities are available on every wing for prisoners to wash their own clothes that they arrived in, or that were sent to them before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“All prison-issued clothing is washed centrally and prisoners can exchange their used clothing for clean sets.”

However Jones maintained that this was not the case for his client, and when he requested at the prison’s visit desk to supply his client with clean clothing, he was denied.

As a legal advisor, he is prohibited from bringing anything besides legal papers to his visits.

Jones emailed the prison to ask what could be done for his client and express his dissatisfaction.

He explained: “That’s why I tweeted. Yet still no response.

“I was pretty shocked when I found out, because even though they’re in custody, that shouldn’t entail a loss of human dignity, which is just why I found it so shocking.

“I can’t believe it’s beyond the wit of a prison to pride these things.

“I think the COVID restriction argument is taking things too far. I don’t see how COVID-19 can be transmitted through clean underwear and clean socks.”

This is one of three alleged cases with such treatment of prisoners at HMP Wandsworth.

Rebecca Smart, Jones’ colleague and another lawyer at HJA, said she had a similar experience with two of her clients at the prison.

According to her first client, a father of two and first time offender, there was no provision of clean clothing when he was taken into custody and placed in isolation without explanation between January and February.

Similar to Jones, Smart was also told that her client was not allowed to receive clean clothing due to COVID-19.

She stated: “He was not allowed access to his religious books either, and this lasted for at least four weeks.”

Smart said she was able to communicate with her client through Purple Visits, a Ministry of Justice-approved and secure platform that enables prisoners to video call their loved ones.

However when her client’s wife signed up to it, he was not notified and was therefore unable to contact his family during his time in isolation. 

Safeguarding concerns such as this at HMP Wandsworth are typically written to Governor Graham Barrett, however if there are urgent issues, there is a safeguarding hotline for at-risk inmates and mental health issues.

After Smart emailed safeguarding, her client was moved to another wing where he claims he was allowed 25 minutes outside a day.

He told her that he was eventually given a spare pair of clean underwear by another inmate after telling him about his situation.

Smart said: “I watched him start as somebody who was really well put-together, well-educated and stayed calm, then having to go through that process.

“He came out really anxious, severely impacted by it by the time I saw him. The change and how that impacted his mental health is huge.”

Barbed wire and chain link fencing in a prison
SEVERELY IMPACTED: Smart claims the conditions inside the prison took a toll on her client’s mental health

Her second client was arrested in October and has been on remand since.

He alleged that he was given one pair of the clothing and underwear set rather than the standard five, and hand washed these in his sink as there were COVID-19 restrictions on the prison’s laundry facilities.

Despite having significant medical issues, the restricted time he claimed he had for hygiene and recreation prohibited him from scheduling a medical appointment to see a doctor for at least two weeks in the prison.

Smart described the living situation for her client as “grim”.

She claimed: “The exercise yard in his wing is eight meters long and very narrow. It’s one person wide and sometimes he’s only able to shower once a week.

“It’s so dire where he is that he just wants to do anything to try and get moved to a different prison.

“No one is telling them what’s going on or why. They’re saying no and using COVID-19 as a generic cover.”

Last year, an annual report from the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) concluded that the living conditions at HMP Wandsworth were unacceptable and inhumane.

HMP Wandsworth from the air
CRAMPED: Prisoners have restricted space to walk around when they are let outside once a day.
Image by Thomas Nugent: HM Prison Wandsworth from the air

Smart alleged that some prisoners remain in the prison for an extended time because their hearing dates are often repeatedly adjourned while they await their trial.

She added: “Others miss their court hearings due to COVID-19 restrictions in the prison.”

HMP Wandsworth are one of the only London prisons who didn’t cease legal visits completely during the third lockdown.

Jones concluded: “Having done well on that front, I don’t see why they’re posing such a rigid rule against the provision of clean underwear and socks with no explanation aside from COVID-19.”

Smart echoed this, stating that throughout the justice system, COVID-19 has been used as a convenient excuse for the slightest negligence.

It was not possible to provide the Ministry of Justice with the names of these prisoners in the effort to get a direct response to these allegations from HMP Wandsworth.

This was to prioritise and ensure their safety and privacy in and outside of the prison.

Therefore when approached for a statement, a Prison Service spokesperson said: “We have been unable to fully investigate these claims as no names have been provided to us.

“Whilst HMP Wandsworth has paused the delivery of prisoners’ own clothes in line with COVID-19 restrictions, no prisoner would have been without clean, prison-issued clothing or underwear for 11 weeks.”

Since these events, HJA said that two of the prisoners have been released and one remains at HMP Wandsworth.

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