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There are four prison security categories in the United Kingdom used to classify 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.

Prisons in England and Wales are managed by HM Prison Service. Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have their own prison administrations.


Prison categories in England and Wales

Prisons 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 did escape. The four categories are:[1]

  • Category A prisoners are those whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or national security
  • Category B prisoners are those who do not require maximum security, but for whom escape needs to be made very difficult
  • Category C prisoners are those who cannot be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape
  • Category D prisoners are 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, whilst category D prisons are called open prisons.

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

Female adult prisoners

Women are also classified into four categories. These categories are:[1][3]

  • Restricted Status is similar to Cat A for men.
  • Closed is for people who are not trusted to not attempt to escape.
  • Semi-open was introduced in 2001 and is for those who are unlikely to try to escape, though it appears to be being phased out as HMP Morton Hall and HMP Drake Hall were re-roled to 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.

Young offenders and juveniles

When offenders under the age of 21 are sentenced to a custodial term they may be sent to one of four types of establishment:

  • Secure Training Centres (STCs) – privately run, education-focused centres for offenders up to the age of 17
  • Local Authority Secure Children’s Homes (LASCHs) – run by social services and focused on attending to the physical, emotional and behavioural needs of vulnerable young people
  • Juvenile Prisons - run by the prison service, these prisons accommodate 15-18 year olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than STCs and LASCHs
  • Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) – run by the prison service, these institutes accommodate 18-21 year olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than juvenile prisons

Prison categories in Northern Ireland

Prison categories in Scotland

Since 2002, in Scotland, prisoners have been assigned to one of three categories:[4]

  • 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. ^ a b c "Prison Walkthrough - Questions". Understanding your sentence. Criminal Justice System. Retrieved 13 September 2009.  
  2. ^ "Category A Prisoners:Reviews of Security Category" (Word document). Prison Service Order 1010. HM Prison Service. 15 November 2004. Retrieved 13 September 2009.  
  3. ^ "Working with Women Prisoners" (Word document). HM Prison Service. November 2003. Retrieved 13 September 2009.  
  4. ^ "What is the Prison Supervision System?". Scottish Prison Service. Retrieved 13 September 2009.  

External links


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