Progressing through the system


A prisoner’s security categorisation will have a significant impact upon their time in custody. It will also determinate the nature of the prison to which they are allocated. It is important that those in custody fully understand their categorisation and what it means during their sentence.

What is the purpose of Categorisation?

Security Categorisation for adult male prisoners is governed by PSI 40/1011. The aim of the PSI is to assist in ensuring that all adult male prisoners are assigned to the prison with the lowest security category capable of managing that prisoners risk.

An assessment of risk takes place looking at the following:
1. The likelihood of escape or abscond;
2. The risk of harm to the public in the event of an escape or abscond and
3. Any control issues that impact on the security and good order of the prison and the safety of those within it.

Prisoners are categorised as either Category A, B, C or D prisoners. Category A prisoners are those most likely to abscond, endanger the public or cause control issues within the prison. The priority of such prisons is to ensure that escape from custody is impossible resulting in a higher level of security and a stricter regime within those establishments. Category D prisoners are the least likely to escape, endanger the public or cause control issues within the prison. Category D prisons place a greater level of trust on prisoners and the security arrangements at such prisons are more relaxed.

Why does it matter what Security Category I am?

All prisons maintain a high level of security; however, as you progress through the prison estate the level of security decreases. Category D prisons provide a regime with a great deal more freedom than other prisons. Prisoners will generally seek to progress to a Category D prison prior to their release date in order to reintegrate back into the community.

Security categorisation can impact upon issues such as release on temporary licence which is an important process used to allow prisoners to return to the community on a phased basis. It is also important for indeterminate sentence prisoners as the Parole Board would generally like to see compliance in conditions of lesser security before directing release into the community.

When do I get Categorised?

PSI 40/2011 confirms that all convicted and sentenced male prisoners, other than those reported as potential Category A prisoners, for which the process is very different, must be categorised within 4 working days of receipt of what is known as essential documents. Such documents include previous convictions, prisoner’s security files, OASys and custodial record. A decision is then made and recorded on a ICA1 form which will be referred to when further consideration is given to security categorisation.

Following initial categorisation, subsequent reviews will take place and consideration will be given to whether there has been a change in the risks presented by the prisoner since their last review. As a result of this assessment a decision is made as to the most appropriate conditions for that prisoner. This can include a decrease or increase in security categorisation.

The starting point for any recategorisation is to look at the reasons for the previous decision. Upon looking at the reasons for the previous categorisation an assessment is then made as to whether there has been a change in the risks posed.

Determinate Sentence Prisoners

Following the initial review, upon a prisoner’s arrival in custody, a subsequent review should take place on a regular basis. The timing of these reviews depends on the sentence being served. Determinate sentence prisoners with less than 2 years until their release date will be subject to 6 monthly reviews. By having a short review period, it gives prisoners more opportunities to demonstrate that they are suitable for less stringent conditions as they prepare for their release. Prisoners with more than 2 years until their release date are subject to annual reviews every 12 months.

Indeterminate Sentence Prisoners

Indeterminate sentence prisoners are subject to a different process to determinate sentence prisoners. They engage in a process known as Sentence Planning and Review meetings. These take place every 12 months and security categorisation should be considered on each occasion. Any transition to open conditions is generally considered by the Parole Board who make a recommendation to the Secretary of State as to the suitability for Category D status.

Prisoners already in Open Conditions

Prisoners already given a Category D security categorisation will only be subject to a review if there is a change in circumstances. If information comes to light which suggests that it is necessary to conduct a review and for a prisoner’s security categorisation to be increased; a review will take place. Examples of when this may be appropriate include involvement or suspected involvement in criminal activity or a deterioration of compliance with the prison regime.

What happens at a review

A review will, in most circumstances, take place on paper so there will not a formal hearing like there is at a Parole Board oral hearing. On occasion inmates are asked to provide their opinions on their categorisation but a review is usually conducted based on a prisoner’s conduct reports, probation reports and any representations that the prisoner may choose to make.

The process of recategorisation should be an open one. After each review, a prisoner should receive a copy of the recategorisation form (RC1) and if the prisoner does not understand the contents then they are able request this information verbally. If a prisoner is not happy with the decision following a review, the prisoner has the ability to lodge a complaint however it is encouraged that this is first taken up with the prisoner’s personal officer.

How can solicitors help me?

Solicitors can help prisoners by drafting representations prior to a prisoner’s review ensuring that the prison focus on the issues relevant to the review and to ensure that the prisoners voice is considered. We can also offer assistance in appealing any decision issued by the prison regarding categorisation. Prisons often rely upon false or irrelevant information when assessing a prisoner’s suitability for lower security conditions and representations can help in challenging this. Whilst legal aid is not available for issues surrounding categorisation we are able to assist on a private paying basis.

Should you require any assistance with a Prison Law issue please contact our Prison Law department at Hine Solicitors on 01865 518971 or FREEPOST – RTHU – LEKE – HAZR Hine Solicitors, Seymour House, 285 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7JF for our Oxford office or FREEPOST – TRXS-TYCU-ZKHY Hine Solicitors, Crown House, 123 Hagley Road, Birmingham B16 8LD for our Birmingham Office.

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