Justice & prisons
Prison sentences are used to punish offenders for serious offences. Incarceration in prison effectively punishes offenders and protects the public – two of the main considerations for judges and magistrates when they decide on a sentence.
The current UK prison population is 76,266 (Source: Prison Population and Accommodation Briefing – July 2005). There are 139 prisons in England and Wales. Buildings, facilities and services vary greatly between prisons. Most are publicly operated but some are privately operated. Different prisons may also have different levels of security to accomodate various types of prisoners.
Prisons for adults
Prisons are categorised based on the security level of prisoner they can accomodate:
Prison security categories for men
All male prisoners are given a security categorisation when they enter prison. These categories are based on the likelihood that they’ll try to escape, and the danger to the public if they did escape. The four categories are:
- category A - prisoners whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or national security
- category B - prisoners who don’t require maximum security, but for whom escape needs to be made very difficult
- category C - prisoners who can’t be trusted in open conditions but who are unlikely to try to escape
- category D - prisoners who are trusted enough to wander freely but must show up for daily roll calls
Prisons security categories for women
Prison security categories for women are similar to those for males – category A is the same. The other two categories are ‘closed’ for prisoners who can’t be trusted in an open prison, and ‘open’ for prisoners who are trusted enough to wander freely but must show up for daily roll calls.
Young offender secure centres and institutions
When young offenders under the age of 21 are sentenced to a custodial sentence they are helped to move away from a life of crime. Young offenders may be sent to:
- Secure Training Centres (STCs) – privately run, education-focused centres for offenders up to the age of 17
- Local Authority Secure Children’s Homes (LASCHs) – run by social services and focused on attending to the physical, emotional and behavioural needs of vulnerable young people
- Youth Offending Institutes (YOIs) – run by the prison service, these institutes accommodate 15-21 year olds and have lower ratios of staff to young people than STCs and LASCHs
Life on the inside: what prisoners can expect
accommodation - cells are usually shared and there may be facilities such as TV and radio
healthcare - prisoners can see doctors, dentists and opticians if they need to and every prison offers treatment for drug and alcohol addiction
education - teaching prisoners new skills is crucial so they don’t have to resort to crime when they’re released, for example, they may learn skills in engineering, woodwork, data entry, plastic moulding, computer aided design or desktop publishing
recreation - prisoners are allowed to exercise outside everyday and some prisons have a recreation area with TVs and pool tables
religion - a prison chaplaincy caters to spiritual needs of prisoners - all prisoners are allowed to practice religion and all faiths are catered for
visiting - to receive visitors convicted prisoners need a ‘visiting order’ stating visitor details – prisoners awaiting trial are allowed more visits than convicted prisoners
Take the Prisons Virtual Walkthrough
Take the Prisons Virtual Walkthrough on the Criminal Justice Online website (new window) to find out what happens when a man, woman or young offender is sent to prison.
Who makes sure the prisons are doing their job properly?
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons for England and Wales (new window) is an independent organisation that reports on conditions in prisons, young offender institutions and immigration removal centres.
Independent Monitoring Boards (new window) also perform a ‘watchdog’ role on behalf of the government and the general public.