Categories of Female Prisoners

What do the security categories actually mean?

Each Prisoner is given a category that represents the level of security required in relation to the accommodation and welfare of that prisoner. Both Male and Female prisoners are categorised in differently.

The Categories

The female prisoners’ security categories are:

  • Category A – a prisoner, who has previously escaped custody, and those who would be highly dangerous to the public, the police and national security require high security conditions to be put in place in order to make escape impossible.

  • Restricted status – 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 a designated secured accommodation. This category would assign to those on remand as well as convicted prisoners.

  • Closed conditions – This category will be relevant to those prisoners who do not necessarily pose such a risk to the public that they require the very highest of security measures, but do present too high a risk for open prison condition, will then require closed conditions.

  • Open Conditions – Prisoners that present a low risk to the public and national security and those who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions would be relevant here.

What determines the security category?

The reason behind categorisation of prisoners is to assess the risks that prisoners poses in relation to the their likelihood of escaping or absconding, the risk of harm to the general public if they did escape or abscond from custody and whether there are any factors that would impact on the security within the prison and the safety of other prisoners.

The prisoner will then be assigned to the lowest security category that will allow the prison service to manage those risks.

Initial Categorisation

Unless a prisoner is serving a life sentence or an indeterminate sentence for Public Protection (IPP), at the initial stage of categorisation, it will be presumed that all prisoners must be considered for open conditions unless one or more of the following apply:

  • The prisoner is serving a current sentence of at least 3 years or more

  • Whilst the prisoner was on remand, they were provisionally treated as a Category A prisoner.

  • They have previously, or are currently charged with a terrorist or related terrorist offence.

  • The prisoner 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 criminal charges outstanding excluding any charges of a minor nature.

  • The Prisoner has served a previous sentence of 7 years or more and was released within the last 5 years.

  • The prisoner has been diagnosed with, or is suspected of suffering from serious mental health problems.

  • There is reasonable grounds to be believe that the prisoner 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.

  • The prisoner 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 their own merits to decide what conditions would be appropriate.

  • The offender is a priority or a prolific Offender

  • A serious crime Prevention Order s imposed.

  • There are more than 2 years left to serve on a sentence. (This is because open prison conditions should only be used for a maximum period of 2 years).

Each prisoner will be assessed on their individual needs and this may lead to an alteration on the general presumption and support earlier categorisation to open conditions.

If this is the case, all decisions must be well documented and confirmed in writing by the Governor.

The categorisation review

Women serving Indeterminate sentenced for public protection will be subject to sentence planning and review meetings. These must be held every 12 months, and such a review will also include consideration of a female prisoner’s security category, and any relevant reviews.

Female prisoners serving:

  • more than a 12 month custodial sentence but less 4 years,

  • Extended prison sentences of less than 4years, and,

  • Female prisoners who are within the last 24 months of their sentence

Should have a categorisation review every 6 months.

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


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

Appealing categorisation

If you are not happy with the decision of your categorisation or any review, then you should follow the internal complaints procedure relevant to the prison you are serving the sentence in.

A Category A prisoner will need to appeal any decision in the same way using the appropriate complaints procedure, but will have to await a response from the Prison Service Headquarters, rather than receiving an answer directly from the prison.

If after the complaints procedure, a prisoner is still not happy with categorisation, a further appeal can be directed to the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. It may be possible in a limited number of cases to have a category decision judicially reviewed.

The Prison service has a duty to give the reasons about their decisions on categorisation, so a prisoner will need to request this full explanation prior to any appeal applications.