Types of Prison and Prisoners

Understanding the various types of prison and prisoners in the UK is crucial for comprehending the nation’s criminal justice system. This guide delves into the classifications of prisons, the categories of prisoners, and the conditions they face within the system.

The UK prison system is divided into several categories based on security levels and the types of inmates they house. Each category is designed to handle specific kinds of prisoners, from those who pose the highest security risks to those deemed low-risk.

Types of Prisons in the UK

UK Prison Categories

Category A Prisons

Category A prisons are the highest security facilities in the UK, reserved for inmates considered highly dangerous or with a high risk of escape. These prisons are fortified with stringent security measures, including advanced surveillance systems, multiple security barriers, and highly trained staff. Inmates in Category A prisons often include those convicted of serious crimes such as terrorism, murder, and organised crime.

Conditions in Category A Prisons

  • Security: Extremely high, with rigorous checks and surveillance.
  • Facilities: Basic, with limited privileges to prevent potential security breaches.
  • Regime: Highly controlled, with restricted movement and interaction among inmates.

Category B Prisons

Category B prisons house inmates who do not require the maximum security of Category A but are still considered a risk to the public. These prisons maintain significant security measures, although they are less restrictive than Category A facilities. Prisoners here include those serving long sentences for serious but not the most severe crimes.

Conditions in Category B Prisons

  • Security: High, with regular checks and secure perimeters.
  • Facilities: Better than Category A, with some educational and rehabilitation programs.
  • Regime: Controlled but less restrictive, allowing for some inmate interaction and activities.

Category C Prisons

Category C prisons are for inmates who cannot be trusted in open conditions but do not pose a significant escape risk. These prisons focus more on rehabilitation and preparing inmates for eventual release. The majority of the UK’s prison population is housed in Category C facilities.

Conditions in Category C Prisons

  • Security: Moderate, with standard surveillance and regular patrols.
  • Facilities: More amenities and programs aimed at rehabilitation and skill development.
  • Regime: Less restrictive, encouraging participation in educational and vocational training.

Category D Prisons (Open Prisons)

Category D prisons, also known as open prisons, are for inmates who are deemed low-risk and are nearing the end of their sentences. These facilities offer a more relaxed environment, with inmates allowed to work outside the prison and have greater freedom of movement.

Conditions in Category D Prisons

  • Security: Minimal, with trust-based systems and fewer physical barriers.
  • Facilities: Extensive programs to aid reintegration into society, including work placements.
  • Regime: Highly relaxed, focusing on rehabilitation and community integration.

Young Offender Institutions (YOIs)

Young Offender Institutions cater specifically to inmates aged 18-21. These institutions combine elements of education and rehabilitation to address the specific needs of younger offenders. YOIs aim to reduce reoffending rates by providing tailored support and opportunities for personal development.

Conditions in YOIs

  • Security: Varies, with measures appropriate to the inmates’ age and risk levels.
  • Facilities: Educational and recreational facilities designed for young people.
  • Regime: Focused on rehabilitation, education, and personal growth.

Women’s Prisons

Women’s prisons cater to the specific needs of female inmates. These facilities often offer specialised services, including healthcare and programs addressing issues such as domestic violence and motherhood. The regime in women’s prisons is designed to support rehabilitation while considering the unique challenges faced by female inmates.

Conditions in Women’s Prisons

  • Security: Varies from high to low, depending on the facility.
  • Facilities: Services tailored to women’s health and wellbeing.
  • Regime: Supportive, with programs aimed at rehabilitation and personal development.

Specialised Prisons

The UK also has specialised prisons for certain categories of inmates, such as psychiatric prisons for inmates with severe mental health issues and immigration removal centres for individuals awaiting deportation. These facilities provide specific care and management suited to their populations’ needs.


Understanding the different types of prisons and prisoners in the UK provides valuable insight into the country’s criminal justice system. Each category of prison serves a distinct purpose, ensuring that inmates receive appropriate management and support based on their risk levels and rehabilitation needs. The UK’s approach aims to balance security with rehabilitation, ultimately striving to reduce reoffending rates and facilitate inmates’ reintegration into society.


  1. What is the difference between Category A and Category B prisons? Category A prisons have the highest security levels for the most dangerous inmates, whereas Category B prisons have slightly less stringent security for inmates who are still a risk but not at the highest level.

  2. What are open prisons used for? Open prisons (Category D) are for low-risk inmates nearing the end of their sentences, focusing on rehabilitation and community reintegration with minimal security restrictions.

  3. How do Young Offender Institutions differ from regular prisons? YOIs cater to inmates aged 18-21, combining education and rehabilitation to address the specific needs of younger offenders and reduce reoffending.

  4. What services are provided in women’s prisons? Women’s prisons offer specialised services such as healthcare, support for domestic violence survivors, and programs for mothers, tailored to the needs of female inmates.

  5. Are there prisons specifically for inmates with mental health issues? Yes, the UK has psychiatric prisons that provide specialised care and management for inmates with severe mental health issues.

Supporting someone in prison? Learn how to send money to a prisoner.

To learn more about the UK’s approach to prison categorisation, check out this comprehensive article by The Guardian.