Categories of Female Prisoners

Every prisoner is categorised, reflecting the level of security required in relation to their accommodation, welfare and security. Male and female prisoners are categorised in differently.

The appropriate categorisation of prisoners reflects the risks that prisoners pose in relation to the likelihood of escaping or absconding from custody, the risk to the general public if they escaped or absconded, and whether there are any factors that would impact the security within the prison – including the safety of others.

Prisoners are assessed as to those risks, and assigned to the lowest security category that will allow the prison service to manage those risks.

What are the categories for female prisoner?

The security categories forfemale prisoners are:

  • Category A: includes prisoners who have previously escaped custody; and those who would be highly dangerous to the public, the police and national security and require high security conditions to be put in place in order to make escape impossible
  • Restricted status: for any female, young person or young adult prisoner whose escape would pose a significant risk to the general public and are required to be held in designated secured accommodation. This category would be assigned to those on remand as well as convicted prisoners
  • Closed conditions: for prisoners who do not necessarily pose such a risk to the public that they require the very highest of security measures, but present too high a risk for open prison condition
  • Open Conditions: for prisoners who present a low risk to the public and national security, and those who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions

In practice, it is very rare for female prisoners to be categorised as category A.

How is the initial categorisation determined?

Unless a prisoner is serving a life sentence or an indeterminate sentence for public protection (IPP), it will be presumed at the initial stage that she must be considered for open conditions – unless at least one of the following apply:

  • The prisoner is serving a current sentence of at least 3 years or more
  • Whilst the prisoner was on remand, she was provisionally treated as a Category A prisoner
  • She has previously been, or is currently charged with, a terrorist or related terrorist offence
  • She has previously escaped from closed prison, police custody or a police escort
  • There is a significant and substantial history of serious offending
  • The prisoner has serious criminal associations
  • There are further (non-minor) criminal charges outstanding
  • The prisoner has served a previous sentence of 7 years or more and was released within the last 5 years
  • She has been diagnosed with, or is suspected of suffering from, serious mental health problems
  • There are reasonable grounds to believe she is at risk of absconding
  • The prisoner has previously failed to surrender to custody
  • Open conditions are not appropriate because of issues with victims and public confidence
  • She is currently subject to MAPPA level 2 or 3 management. MAPPA is the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements for supervising offenders in the community. Serious consideration must be given to each individual on her own merits to decide what conditions would be appropriate
  • The prisoner is a priority or a prolific offender
  • A serious crime Prevention Order is imposed
  • There are more than 2 years left to serve on a sentence(open prison conditions should only be used for a maximum period of 2 years)

Each prisoner is assessed on her individual needs. Where the assessment is made in favour of open conditions, this must be well documented and confirmed in writing by the prison Governor.

Is the categorisation subject to a review?

A review is permitted at certain times during the prisoner’s sentence. At the recategorisation review, it should be considered whether there is evidence available which may indicate that the risk has been reduced sufficiently to justify recategorisation to a lower security establishment.

Women serving an IPP will be subject to sentence planning and review meetings held every 12 months. These reviews will also include consideration of the security category.

Female prisoners serving a custodial sentence of 4 years or more should have a categorisation review every 12 months.

The following female prisoners should have a categorisation review every 6 months:

  • Those serving more than 12 months in prison but less 4 years
  • Those serving extended prison sentences of less than 4years, and,
  • Those who are within the last 24 months of their sentence

Where a female prisoner’s security category changes during their sentence, the OCA unit (Observation, Classification and Allocation unit) is responsible for the recategorisation. Decisions are either made by a board of members or a single manager.

Can categorisation be appealed?

If you are unhappy with a recategorisation decision or review, you should follow the prison’s internal complaints procedure. A Category A prisoner will, in addition, need to await a response from the Prison Service Headquarters, rather than directly from the prison itself.

A further appeal can be made directly to the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. It may be possible in a restricted number of cases to have a judicial review of a category decision.

The Prison Service must give reasons for its decisions on categorisation, so the prisoner will need to request this prior to any appeal applications.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.