Categorisation - men's prisons

What is my security category?

Your security category determines what type of prison you can be held in.

Prison staff consider things like:

  • Likelihood of escape or abscond
  • The risk of harm to the public in the event of an escape or abscond
  • Any control issues that impact on the security and good order of the prison and the safety of those within it

You should be given the lowest security category that can manage these risks.

If you are in a high security category (like A or B) you will have less freedom in prison to do things than other prisoners. Prison staff will do more to check on you and to stop you escaping.


What are the security categories for adult male prisoners?

Prisoners must be categorised objectively according to the likelihood that they will seek to escape and the risk that they would pose should they do so.


Category A. This is where prison staff think you will harm someone outside prison and/or you might try to escape so everything possible will be done to stop you escaping.


Category B. This is where prison staff think you should have no chance of escaping.


Category C. This is where prison staff think you will not escape, but that you cannot be trusted in an open prison.


Category D. This is where prison staff think they can trust you to be in an open prison.


Closed prisons. These are Category A, B and C prisons. Most people in prison are in closed prisons. These prisons are secure and people cannot escape from them.


Open prisons. These are Category D prisons. In these prisons you have more freedom than in other prisons to move around and do things. You may have your own cell with your own keys. You may be put in an open prison if staff think you can be trusted.

Reviewing your security category

Prison staff should regularly review your security category, unless you have a sentence of less than 12 months or are already a category D prisoner.

If you are serving a determinate sentence of more than 12 months but less than 4 years, or an extended sentence of less than 4 years you should have a review every 6 months.

If you are serving a determinate sentence or extended sentence of 4 years or more you should have a review every 12 months until you are in the last 2 years of their sentence, when you should have 6 monthly reviews.

You may also have your security category reviewed whenever there has been a significant change in your circumstances or behaviour that impacts on the level of security required, whether negative or positive.

If you are serving an indeterminate sentence you should have Sentence Planning and Review meetings at least every 12 months.  Your security category should be considered at each meeting.

If you are a category A prisoner staff who work at Prison Service Head Office will check your security category.


If you are a category D prisoner staff will not need to check your security category very much.


When will I be eligible for Category D?


If you are a determinate sentenced prisoner, you cannot generally be moved to an open prison if you have more than 2 years to your release date. However, PSI 40/2011 does say that ‘assessment of a prisoner’s individual risks and needs may support earlier categorisation to D’.

There are several reasons why you may not be recategorised for open conditions - for example if you have previously escaped or absconded from prison, or if you have a significant history of serious offending. There are more details in PSI 40/2011.

If you are serving an indeterminate sentence you can only be transferred to open conditions following a recommendation by the Parole Board and/or a decision by the Secretary of State. There is more information about this in PSI 22/2015 Generic Parole Process for Indeterminate and Determinate Sentenced Prisoners.

Can I appeal my categorisation decision?

You can appeal your security category if you think it is wrong. You can do this using the normal complaints procedure.


A review should be done by someone senior to the person who made the original decision.


The prison should give you a written copy of the categorisation decision and the reasons for the decision, make sure you have this so that you can write your appeal using that information.

Where you will serve your sentence

You will start your sentence in a local prison or young offender institution near to the court you were sentenced at.

You may stay at the same prison all the time if your sentence is for a short time.

If your sentence is for a longer time you will be moved to another prison soon afterwards.

You cannot choose the prison you go to. But you can let prison staff know if you want to move to a prison nearer to your friends or family. They may be able to help with this.

It can be a long wait to move to another prison as there are lots of prisoners who want to move prisons.

Further information

Useful PSIs and PSOs (these should be available in the library):

PSI 40/2011 Categorisation and Recategorisation Of Adult Male Prisoners

PSI 22/2015 Generic Parole Process for Indeterminate and Determinate Sentenced Prisoners.

PSI 02/2012 Prisoner Complaints


Information sheets

Prisoners Advice Service information sheet on ‘Categorisation – Male Prisoners


The Prison Rules 1999

For a print-ready version of this information, click here.