Prisoner security categories in the United Kingdom

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Prisoner security categories in the United Kingdom are one of four classification assigned to every adult prisoner for the purposes of assigning them to a prison. The categories are based upon the severity of the crime and the risk posed should the person escape.

There are three different prison services in the United Kingdom, and separate services for the three Crown Dependencies. Her Majesty's Prison Service manages prisons in England and Wales, and also serves as the National Offender Management Service for England and Wales. Prisons in Scotland are managed by the Scottish Prison Service and prisons in Northern Ireland are managed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service. The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands also have their own prison administrations.

Prisoner categories in England and Wales

Prisoners in England and Wales are divided into several categories relating to the age, gender and security classification of the prisoners it holds.[1]

Male adult prisoners

Male adult prisoners (those aged 21 or over) are given a security categorisation soon after they enter prison. These categories are based on a combination of the type of crime committed, the length of sentence, the likelihood of escape, and the danger to the public if they were to escape. The four categories are:[1]

Prison type Category Prison description
Closed prison A Those whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or national security. Offences that may result in consideration for Category A or Restricted Status include:

(Attempted) Murder, Manslaughter, Wounding with intent, Rape, Indecent assault, Robbery or conspiracy to rob (with firearms), Firearms offences, Importing or supplying Class A controlled drugs, Possessing or supplying explosives, Offences connected with terrorism and Offences under the Official Secrets Act[citation needed]

B Those who do not require maximum security, but for whom escape still needs to be very difficult.
C Those who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape
Open prison D Those who can be reasonably trusted not to try to escape, and are given the privilege of an open prison. Prisoners at 'D Cat.' (as it is commonly known) prisons, are, subject to approval, given ROTL (Release On Temporary Licence) to work in the community or to go on 'home leave' once they have passed their FLED (Full Licence Eligibility Dates), which is usually a quarter of the way through the sentence.

Category A, B and C prisons are called closed prisons, whereas category D prisons are called open prisons.

Category A prisoners are further divided into Standard Risk, High Risk, and Exceptional Risk, based on their likelihood of escaping.[2]

Men on remand are usually held in Category B conditions. Those to be tried on (very) Serious offences are considered for "Provisional Category A" conditions.

Escape List Prisoners

Prisoners who have made active attempts to escape from custody are placed on the holding prison's Escape List. These prisoners (sometimes referred to as "E men" or "E List men") are required to wear distinctive, brightly coloured clothing when being moved both inside and outside of the prison and are handcuffed. In addition they are required to change cells frequently and to have their clothes and some of their personal property removed from their cell before being locked in for the night.

Female adult prisoners

Women are also classified into four categories. These categories are:[1]

  • Restricted Status is similar to Category A for men.
  • Closed is for women who do not require Restricted Status, but for whom escape needs to be very difficult.
  • Semi-open was introduced in 2001 and is for those who are unlikely to try to escape, but it appears that this is being phased out as HMP Morton Hall and HMP Drake Hall were re-designated as closed in March 2009.
  • Open is for those who can be trusted to stay within the prison.

Remand prisoners are normally held in closed prisons.

Children and young people

When children and young people under the age of 18 are sentenced or remanded to custody, they may be sent to one of three types of establishment:

  • Secure Training Centres (STCs) – privately run, education-focused centres for children aged 12 to 17
  • Secure Children’s Homes – run by local authority children's services, and one charity provider, these are focused on meeting the physical, emotional and behavioural needs of vulnerable young people
  • Youth Offender Institutions (YO) - run by the prison service and private companies, these prisons accommodate 15- to 18-year-olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than STCs and LASCHs

Young adults

  • Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) – run by the prison service and private companies, these accommodate 18- to 21-year-olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than juvenile prisons

Prison categories in Scotland

Since 2002, in Scotland, prisoners have been assigned to one of three categories:[3]

  • High Supervision: an individual for whom all activities and movements require to be authorised, supervised and monitored by prison staff.
  • Medium Supervision: an individual for whom activities and movements are subject to locally specified limited supervision and restrictions.
  • Low Supervision: an individual for whom activities and movements, specified locally, are subject to minimum supervision and restrictions. Low Supervision prisoners may be entitled to release on temporary licence and unsupervised activities in the community.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Prison Walkthrough - Questions". Understanding your sentence. Criminal Justice System. Retrieved 13 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Category A Prisoners:Reviews of Security Category" (DOC). Prison Service Instruction 03/2010. HM Prison Service. 1 March 2010. |archive-url= is malformed: timestamp (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "What is the Prison Supervision System?". Scottish Prison Service. Retrieved 13 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links