Understanding Categories of Prisons in the UK

Prison Info

When discussing UK prisons, it’s crucial to understand their classification system known as ‘Categories’. Category helps to identify the level of risk posed by an inmate and determines the level of security in which they’re housed. Here’s a look at the different categories:

Category A:

Category A prisons are home to inmates considered a high security risk to the public, the police, or national security. Escalations can include acts of terrorism or organised crime. Prisons in this category have the tightest security measures.

Category B:

These facilities also house individuals who pose a risk, but to a lesser extent than Category A. While these inmates can’t be trusted in open conditions, they’re not seen as ‘escape risks’.

Category C:

Category C prisoners are those not trusted in open conditions but are unlikely to try to escape. They pose less risk and can often earn more privileges.

Category D:

As open prisons, Category D facilities house inmates who pose a minimal risk. They are trusted not to escape, may be permitted to work or study in the local community, and are often nearing the end of their sentence.

Now that we understand the different categories, let’s take a look at how prisoners are categorised:

The categorisation process:

Upon entry into the prison system, an inmate is usually placed in a local prison where they are assessed. During this assessment, many factors are considered such as the crime committed, any previous criminal history, the likelihood of escape, and potential risk to the public. After this, the prisoner is assigned a category.

Although there are infrastructure differences between categories, the ultimate goal of every UK prison is the same – to provide a safe environment and facilitate rehabilitation to prevent reoffending upon release.

Women’s prisons:

It’s worth noting that categorisation is slightly different for women. Female prisoners are either categorised as Restricted Status (equivalent to Category A for men), or they are not. Those without a category may be housed in either closed or open conditions, based on their behaviour and escape risk.


Depending on their behaviour, level of risk, and demonstrated progress, prisoners can be re-categorised during their sentence. This is part of the rehabilitation process.

Youth prisons:

Young offenders’ institutions work differently from adult prisons. If a prisoner is between 15-17 years, they will likely end up in a Young Offender Institution or a Secure Training Centre. These institutions concentrate more on education and rehabilitation to integrate the young inmates back into society.

Now that you better understand the prison categorisation system in the UK, it should be easier to navigate the legal and correctional landscapes with respect to incarceration. This knowledge is crucial not only for those involved with the system but also for the general public to understand how it operates.

Hope this guide on Understanding Categories of Prisons in the UK has aided your comprehension. The more we understand about the system, the better we, as a society, can support it in its ultimate goal – to rehabilitate and reduce reoffending.

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