Clothing and bedding

Key Elements

Clean clothes and bedding, in sufficient quantity and adapted to the climate, are essential elements of good personal hygiene and decent living conditions in detention.

Pre-trial detainees should be allowed to retain their civilian clothes. Detainees serving sentences should, in accordance with national norms, have the option to wear their own clothes rather than a uniform. In all cases, the clothes should never be degrading or humiliating. The clothes should be washed regularly by the laundry service of the institution, or directly by the detainees in washroom or laundry areas provided for this purpose.

Clean bedding changed regularly prevents the outbreak of bug and skin disease epidemics. The bedding should be washed and changed by the laundry service of the institution.

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Pre-trial detainees should not be forced to wear a uniform. Convicted detainees are required to wear uniforms in certain contexts, in accordance with local and national norms. To promote normalisation, facilitate rehabilitation and preserve individual identity, all categories of detainees should have the option to wear civilian clothes. When uniforms are imposed, they should be issued in sufficient quantity, be suitable for the climate, and never be humiliating or degrading in appearance.

The practice of equating uniform colours with particular types of crime or behaviour should be avoided (and if necessary replaced by another form of designation) because it reinforces the stigmatisation of certain categories of detainees. Uniforms must be available in all sizes, including for overweight or obese detainees.

Clothing should take into account the detainees’ cultural and religious identity so as to avoid discriminating against or stigmatising certain categories of the incarcerated population .

If detainees are allowed to wear their own clothes, arrangements should be made upon their admission to the institution to ensure that the clothes are clean and fit to wear. When required, the institution must provide the most vulnerable detainees with clothing adapted to the climate. The detainee should, as a minimum, receive underwear (briefs/panties and socks) in sufficient quantity upon admission to the institution.

Whatever the dress code system in place (uniforms or civilian clothes), clothes that are shabby or dirty, or that reflect demeaning connotations, weaken self-esteem, an essential element of rehabilitation.

Detainees who leave an institution for an authorised purpose such as a transfer must be allowed to wear their own clothes, or at least clothes that are inconspicuous. Detainees seeking early release or parole before a judge or a commission should also be able to dress in a dignified and appropriate manner in civilian clothes.

Detainees should not suffer from climatic conditions because their clothing is unsuitable or of insufficient quantity. Whenever necessary, the institution should make provision for warm and waterproof clothes to wear during time spent outdoors.

Detainees performing manual tasks in kitchens, workshops and maintenance areas must be issued working clothes in good condition. These should be washed frequently, even daily depending on the activity.


To ensure good collective hygiene and respect for the dignity of detainees, their clothing ─ whether uniforms or civilian clothes ─ should be washed regularly. Detainees sometimes prefer to have their clothes washed by relatives who return them during family visits. Detainees bereft of family, or whose families are located too far away to assure this type of service, should not be discriminated against. In all cases, detainees should be offered the possibility one way or another to launder their clothes within the institution.

Laundry facilities and services should be free in institutions equipped with them. The poorest detainees should at any rate have free access to a basic laundry service. When laundry services are fully assured by the detaining authorities, the laundered clothes should be delivered dried and ironed, where possible.

Laundry collection days and hours should be announced or organised according to a set schedule. This will prevent detainees from being deprived of laundry services because they were under the shower or engaged in some other activity at laundry pick-up time. The detaining authorities are responsible for safeguarding and delivering the laundry without mixing it up or exchanging it with other articles.

Detainees working in the laundry service of the institution must be remunerated and should have access to basic training, in order to enhance their skills and thus maximise their reintegration prospects.

Detainees should not be obliged to do their laundry in their cells, where hot water and available space ─ especially for hanging up clothes to dry ─ are often limited, or non-existent.



Each newly arrived detainee should receive, in addition to basic hygiene articles, bedding that is clean and in good condition.

Depending on the climate and local practice, bedding material should include a blanket, a flat sheet, a fitted sheet, a mattress cover and a pillowcase. Bedding must be kept in good condition by the institution, washed regularly and replaced when worn out. Good maintenance, including regular washing of bedding, reduces the risk of contracting skin diseases. Fireproof bedding safeguards against fire risks and should be available, based on the principle of equivalence, in line with what is required in hospitals and similar institutions.

While some detainees may possess their own bedding, purchased or obtained through their families, the detaining authorities should continue to provide basic bedding to those who have neither the means nor family assistance to obtain it elsewhere.

Bed linen changes should take place in the presence of the detainees concerned. When bed linen change times are not known in advance, the detainees concerned may be absentfrom their cells when they take place and thus risk not receiving clean bedding. The system in place must be able to prevent such occurrences.

Mattresses must be replaced periodically. They should be inspected regularly, both visually and manually, to detect damage, stains and wear and tear, including the condition of the foam. Mattresses found to be defective should be replaced.

Bedding is one of the most frequently damaged items, resulting in significant financial loss for the institutions concerned. Material losses, notably involving sheets and towels, are also commonplace. Despite the sometimes direct responsibility of the detainees in the degradation of material, the detaining authorities are responsible for providing bedding in good condition to all detainees, especially to new arrivals. The loss of sheets is sometimes linked to transgressions by the institutions themselves, for example in cases where sheets are severely degraded when used as a partition to isolate a cell toilet, or as a curtain.

Disciplinary and isolation quarters

Disciplinary and isolation cells must have clean bedding, replaced with each new occupant. Disciplinary measures must not violate the right to personal hygiene and cleanliness.

Given that people placed in solitary confinement or in disciplinary quarters are often psychologically fragile and can represent a high risk of suicide, it is important to provide their cells with secure clothing and bedding. This contributes significantly to reducing the risk of self-injury or suicide. The provision of non-flammable bedding in these cells is one possible security measure that can be taken in this context.

Groups in situation of vulnerability

Women detainees accompanied by small children should be able to regularly change bedding and to wash their clothes and those of their children as often as necessary. Pregnant women should be able to dress in a dignified manner in clothing adapted to their condition. Young children detained with their mothers should never be made to wear a uniform and the detaining authorities must ensure that they are provided with clothing suitable for their age and the climate.


Children should not be made to wear a uniform, regardless of whether they are in pre-trial detention or serving a sentence (where possible), and must be able to wear civilian clothes. It is particularly important that detained minors are not stigmatised by being made to wear a uniform, and that the principle of normalisation should be the overriding consideration in this regard. The authorities must ensure that, at all times, detained children have clothing that is suitable for the climate and adequate to keep them healthy.

Transgender detainees should be able to wear clothes that do not necessarily correspond to their biological sex. The authorities should not obstruct their choice of clothes more than they do for other detainees.

In cases where uniforms have to be worn, LGBTI detainees should not, even for protection purposes, be forced to wear a uniform in a colour that distinguishes them from the rest of the prison population. Beyond the obvious stigmatisation it generates, such practice is humiliating and degrading.


People with a disability or reduced mobility should receive the necessary support from the authorities to meet their bed linen and clothes laundry needs. In cases where detainees are expected to handle their own laundry directly, those with disabilities or reduced mobility should be exempted from such a task.


If civilian clothes are allowed, detainees from minorities and indigenous peoples should be authorised to wear clothes that reflect their cultural specificity and that enable them to preserve a minimum degree of tradition.

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Questions for monitors

What dress code is imposed in the institution?

If wearing a uniform is mandatory, is the outfit issued suitable for the climate and adequate to keep a detainee in good health? Is the uniform degrading or humiliating in appearance?

In cases where uniforms constitute the dress code, do some detainees wear uniforms of a colour that denotes a type of crime, behaviour or other particularity?

Are detainees allowed to wear civilian clothes when they are temporarily released from the institution? Are the clothes suitable for formal occasions such as a meeting with a judge or a job interview?

What does the trousseau issued to a detainee on admission contain? Are the contents checked to ensure that no clothing and bedding articles are missing?

When detainees are authorised to wear their civilian clothes what measures are taken by the authorities to ensure that they are clean and fit to wear?

Do detainees receive an adequate supply of underwear?

What washing/laundry service is in place? Is the service free?

What measures are taken to avoid the loss or exchange of laundry items?

What bedding material is made available by the institution? What is the state of cleanliness and wear of the bedding?

Is the condition of mattresses checked regularly? Are mattresses replaced if found to be in bad condition?

Under what conditions are bed linen changes carried out? Are the detainees present when they take place?

What is the state of the bedding in the isolation/disciplinary cells? Is the bedding designed to prevent self-injury and suicide attempts?


What are the provisions regarding bedding and clothes for detained woman accompanied by small children?

Can transgender detainees wear clothes corresponding to the sex of their choice?


Do people with a disability or reduced mobility receive support from the institution to meet their bed linen change and clothes laundry needs?


Are children authorised to wear civilian clothes at all times? Are the clothes adapted to the climate and issued in sufficient quantity?


Are people from minorities and indigenous people allowed to wear clothes specific to their traditions and culture?


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