Prison recategorisation process in the UK

Prison recategorisation is a critical process within the UK’s criminal justice system, determining the security level and privileges of inmates based on various factors. This guide provides an in-depth look at how recategorisation works, its criteria, and its implications for prisoners and their families.

What is Prison Recategorisation?

Prison recategorisation involves re-evaluating an inmate’s security category to ensure they are held in the appropriate environment relative to the risk they pose and their rehabilitation needs. This system helps manage the prison population effectively and aims to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners into society​​​​.

Prison recategorisation process in the UK

Categories of Prisoners

In the UK, prisoners are classified into four main categories based on their risk and security needs:

  1. Category A: Prisoners who pose the highest risk to the public, police, or national security. Escape from these prisons must be made impossible.
  2. Category B: Prisoners who do not require maximum security but need to be prevented from escaping.
  3. Category C: Prisoners who cannot be trusted in open conditions but are unlikely to try escaping.
  4. Category D: Prisoners who can be reasonably trusted in open conditions and are given more freedom​​.

The Recategorisation Process

Prison recategorisation starts with a thorough risk assessment. Factors considered include the nature of the crime, behavior in prison, length of sentence served, and any risk to public safety if the prisoner were to escape. Regular reviews ensure that inmates are re-evaluated and placed in the appropriate category as their situation changes​​.

Criteria for Recategorisation

Prisoners can be recategorised based on several criteria:

  • Behavioral improvements: Demonstrating good behavior and engagement in rehabilitation programs.
  • Sentence progression: As inmates serve their sentences, their risk levels may decrease.
  • Risk assessment: Ongoing assessments of the potential threat an inmate poses to society and the likelihood of re-offending​​.

Challenges and Controversies

The recategorisation process is not without its challenges. Some controversies include:

  • Overcrowding: There have been claims that some prisoners are recategorised simply to manage overcrowding, rather than based on accurate risk assessments.
  • Legal aid: Recent reforms have reduced access to legal aid for prisoners challenging their recategorisation, leading to concerns about the fairness and accuracy of these decisions​​​​.

Impact on Prisoners

Being recategorised can significantly affect a prisoner’s daily life, including their level of freedom, access to rehabilitation programs, and eligibility for early release. It can also impact their mental health and prospects for reintegration into society.

How to Appeal a Recategorisation Decision

Prisoners have the right to appeal recategorisation decisions. This involves:

  • Submitting a formal appeal to the prison authorities.
  • Seeking legal advice, although access to legal aid may be limited.
  • Presenting evidence of good behavior or other mitigating factors​​.

The Future of Prison Recategorisation

The UK government continues to review and update prison recategorisation policies to improve fairness and efficiency. Recent updates include refining risk assessment procedures and enhancing support for rehabilitation programs to ensure prisoners are categorised appropriately and have the best chance for successful reintegration​​.


  1. What is prison recategorisation?

    • Prison recategorisation is the process of re-evaluating a prisoner’s security category based on their risk and behavior.
  2. How often are prisoners recategorised?

    • Recategorisation reviews typically occur annually or when significant changes in the prisoner’s behavior or circumstances arise.
  3. Can prisoners appeal recategorisation decisions?

    • Yes, prisoners can appeal these decisions, although access to legal aid for such appeals is limited.
  4. What factors are considered in recategorisation?

    • Factors include the nature of the crime, prison behavior, sentence length, and risk assessments.
  5. How does recategorisation affect a prisoner’s daily life?

    • It can affect their security level, freedom within the prison, access to rehabilitation programs, and eligibility for early release.
  6. What are the categories of prisons in the UK?

    • The categories are A (high risk), B (medium risk), C (lower risk but not open), and D (open conditions).
  7. Why is recategorisation important?

    • It ensures prisoners are held in appropriate security conditions, aiding in risk management and rehabilitation.
  8. What controversies surround prison recategorisation?

    • Controversies include allegations of using recategorisation to manage overcrowding and the impact of reduced legal aid.
  9. What recent changes have been made to the recategorisation process?

    • Recent updates focus on improving risk assessments and supporting rehabilitation efforts.
  10. Where can I find more information on prison recategorisation?

    • For more detailed information, refer to the UK government’s policy framework on security categorisation.

Summary and Conclusion

Prison recategorisation is a vital component of the UK’s prison system, aiming to balance security, rehabilitation, and reintegration. While the process is complex and sometimes controversial, understanding its mechanics can help inmates and their families navigate the prison system more effectively. For further reading on this topic, visit GOV.UK’s security categorisation policy framework.

Research Sources

See our other pages including What is the most common crime in the UK