Why are prisoners categorised?

Some time after sentencing, adult male prisoners are assigned to the correct security category and allocated to an appropriate prison. Categorisation is based on the level of risk a prisoner might pose to the public or national security should they escape and the likelihood of their making attempts to do so.

What are the categories?

Prisoner categories in England and Wales

There are four different security categories:

Category A – Category A prisoners are those that would pose the most threat to the public, the police or national security should they escape. Security conditions in category A prisons are designed to make escape impossible for these prisoners.

Category B – Category B prisoners do not need to be held in the highest security conditions but, for category B prisoners, the potential for escape should be made very difficult.

Category C – Category C prisoners cannot be trusted in open conditions but are considered to be prisoners who are unlikely to make a determined escape attempt.

Category D – Category D prisoners can be trusted in open conditions.

Un-sentenced prisoners, or prisoners on remand awaiting trial, are generally housed in category B accommodation unless they have been provisionally classified as category A.

Prisoner categories in Scotland

High Supervision A prisoner for whom all activities and movements should be authorised, supervised and monitored by an officer.

Medium Supervision A prisoner whom activities and movements are subject to limited supervision and restrictions.

Low Supervision A prisoner for whom activities and movements are subject to minimum supervision and restrictions. Prisoners in this category may be allowed to participate in activities in the community, which may be supervised or unsupervised.

On arrival in prison, each prisoner will initially be treated as high supervision. However within 72 hours of the prisoner’s arrival in prison, the prison governor will make an assessment of the prisoner and assign an appropriate category.

Female prisoners and young prisoners

Unless they have been deemed category A then female prisoners and young prisoners are not categorised. They are only classified as suitable for open conditions or suitable for closed conditions.

Does someone stay the same category throughout their whole sentence?

This depends on the length of sentence. In England and Wales, Category B and C prisoners who have a sentence of 12 months to 4 years should have their category reviewed at six monthly intervals. Anyone in the last 30 months of their sentence should also have their category reviewed at the same frequency. Category B and C prisoners with sentences of 4 years or more will have their categorisation reviewed on an annual basis. Category A prisoners will not have their first category review until 2 years after their initial categorisation.

In Scotland, the prison governor will make a formal review within six months and may assign a different category if necessary. Following this review, the governor must carry out another review at least once in every 12 month period.

If a prisoner is deemed to pose less of a risk to the public or they are considered less likely to make an attempt on escape then they may be moved to a lower category. Similarly, if the prisoner is considered to be more of a risk then their category may be raised.

Can a prisoner appeal against their security category?

If a prisoner is not happy with the results of their re-categorisation after a review then they can pursue their complaint through the prison complaints system. It may, in some cases, be possible to challenge the decision via a judicial review but only if the decision is unlawful or made without following the correct procedure. In such cases legal advice must be sought. The Prison Service has a duty to give reasons for their decisions relating to categorisation so it is important to have these in writing before any appeal is mounted.