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Prison security categories in the United Kingdom

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.

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:

  • 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 can not be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape
  • Category D prisoners are those who can be 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.

Female adult prisoners

Women are also classified into four categories. Category A is identical to that for men. The other categories are closed, for people who are not trusted to not attempt to escape, whilst semi-open (introduced 2001) and open are for those who can be trusted to stay within the prison. Remand prisoners are normally held in closed prisons.

Young offender secure centres and institutions

When young offenders under the age of 21 are sentenced to a custodial sentence they may be sent to one of three 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
  • Young Offender Institutes (YOIs) – run by the prison service, these institutes accommodate 15-21 year olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than STCs and LASCHs

Prison categories in Northern Ireland

Prison categories in Scotland

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