Skip to main content

Your A-D guide on prison categories

“I’ve just got a job as a prison officer in a category B prison… but what does category B mean?”

In England and Wales, prisoners are categorised based on:

  • risk of escape
  • harm to the public, if they were to escape
  • threat to the control and stability of a prison

This page provides an overview of the different security categories we have in our prison service, ranging from category A (highest security) down to category D (lowest security).

Male prisons are organised into 4 categories

Category A
These are high security prisons. They house male prisoners who, if they were to escape, pose the most threat to the public, the police or national security.

Category B
These prisons are either local or training prisons.

Local prisons house prisoners that are taken directly from court in the local area (sentenced or on remand), and training prisons hold long-term and high-security prisoners.

Category C
These prisons are training and resettlement prisons; most prisoners are located in a category C. They provide prisoners with the opportunity to develop their own skills so they can find work and resettle back into the community on release.

Category D - open prisons
These prisons have minimal security and allow eligible prisoners to spend most of their day away from the prison on licence to carry out work, education or for other resettlement purposes. Open prisons only house prisoners that have been risk-assessed and deemed suitable for open conditions.

Women and young adults

Women and young adults are categorised and held in either closed conditions or open conditions, according to their risks and needs.

Females and young adults who're considered high risk are categorised as ‘restricted status’, meaning they can only be held in a closed prison. In exceptional cases, women and young adults may be held in a high security prison (category A).

Youth offenders

Young Offender Institution (YOI)
These prisons house prisoners aged between 18 to 21.

Youth Custody
These establishments house young people under the age of 18 who have been remanded or sentenced to periods of detention by the courts.

Does a prisoner stay in the same category throughout their sentence?

Prison staff assess prisoners when they’re first sentenced and also throughout their time in prison, to identify whether or not they’re still in the right prison category. If the prisoners' risks are assessed as sufficiently raised or lowered, prison staff can take action to transfer them to the more appropriate security prison.

If a prisoners' sentence is:

  • between 1 year and 4 years, they’ll be assessed every 6 months
  • more than 4 years, they’ll be assessed every year until the last 2 years of their custodial sentence, when they will be assessed every 6 months
  • in a category A prison, prison staff work with the Prison Service Head Office to check security
  • in a category D prison, then prisoners will not need to be recategorised unless their risks have changed

Convicted and sentenced prisoners can be recategorised at any time if something has occurred, or new information has emerged, that might affect their risks.

Can a prisoner appeal against their category?

If a prisoner is unhappy with their re-categorisation after their assessment, they can appeal by putting in a complaint through the prison complaint system which is carried out by the prison itself. The prison staff are then responsible for providing the reasons behind their decision.