Security, order, and discipline

Security functions are fulfilled by

  • penitentiary administration
  • private companies

Security functions in public prisons are devolved to the penitentiary administration. In privately managed facilities they are assumed by private companies.

Some prison facilities, units or cells implement high-security measures


The prison system has eight category A or high security facilities: Belmarsh, Frankland, Full Sutton, Long Lartin, Manchester, Wakefield, Whitemoor and Woodhill prison.

All prisons have cells, units or isolation quarters with reinforced security arrangements. The rules vary depending on the institution and the reason for isolation. Whitemoor Prison allows contact with solitary prisoners only through a glass partition. Prisoners under constant surveillance are placed in protection cells, sometimes equipped with cameras.1

Prisoners are classified according to their supposed level of dangerousness


Prisoners are assigned based on their risk assessment (security category). Sentence length is not a deciding factorand general trends cab be seen.

Category B usually includes:

  • defendants1
  • those sentenced to short sentences
  • newly convicted prisoners awaiting transfer

The vast majority of prisoners sentenced to long sentences are classified in category C. At any time, the administration can change a prisoner’s category.

  1. British criminal law distinguishes different situations throughout the process. A person can be considered as convicted or not. For more information see PSO 4600 publication on convicted and detained prisoners and civil prisoners

The classification of prisoners is revised


Revision of the prisoner’s classification depends on the length of their sentence. When the sentence length is:

  • One to four years, the classification is revised every six months.
  • More than four years, the classification is revised annually until the last two years of the sentence. It is then re-examined every six months. Change in classification of prisoners in category D is rare, except modification of the risk assessment.1

A Howard League report in 2017 highlighted the difficulties prison staff face in establishing good relations with prisoners. The small number of staff, the heavy workload and frequent turnover of staff within the same facilities are at the root of this.1

  1. Howard League, “The role of the prison officer”, 2017. 

There are four types of body searches:

  • level A body search (removal of shoes, inspection of hair, mouth, ears, etc…)
  • level B body search (simple pat-down)
  • full body search
  • search “of other parts of the body” (visual inspection of body cavities, excluding any intrusive gesture)

The mandatory procedures are detailed in Appendix B of the PSI 07/2016 on the search of persons.

All searches are logged in a register


Full body searches are at the very least logged. Additional procedures, such as examining body cavities, are also logged.1

Body cavity searches are conducted by a physician


Prison officers carry out body searches. They are not allowed to perform body cavity examinations. This ban is not always observed.1

  1. Department of Justice, PSI publication 07/2016 on the search of persons, p. 37-39. 

Relatives who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

  • electronic device
  • body search

Visitors may be subjected, upon entering or leaving, to a rub-down search, archway or portable metal detector check. Personal effects can be X-rayed. Full body searches without the visitor’s consent are possible if staff have good reason to suspect that they are in possession of a firearm or drug.1

Professionals who enter the prison are searched using the following methods

  • electronic device
  • body search

Professionals are subject to the same searches as relatives.

The PSO 1600 publication on the use of force defines the authorised means of restraint:

  • personal defence techniques: “Staff members may use these techniques in situations where they are legal and necessary, to protect themselves or a third party”.
  • placement in a protection cell: *“Violent and uncooperative prisoners can be placed in protective custody.”
  • baton: “Officers may, in extreme circumstances, use the baton as a defensive weapon, taking into account the possible medical consequences”.
  • immobilisation techniques: “These techniques are used as a last resort to subdue a violent or resistant prisoner. These techniques should be kept as brief as possible “.
  • handcuffs:“They can be used, if justified, when removing an uncooperative prisoner”.
  • Full-body search of a restrained prisoner:“this should only be done if it is proven, or reasonably suspected, that the prisoner is carrying a prohibited item”.
  • restraint belt: “a restraint belt should only be used to prevent a violent or uncooperative prisoner from harming themselves, another prisoner or member of staff or damaging property when all other possible means have been exhausted or are considered dangerous”.

In October 2018, Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, announced that every prison officer in a men’s prison would be equipped with a PAVA spray . Staff would be authorised to use it against serious violence or the threat of serious violence.1 In 2018, Prison Reform Trust published an analysis of the pilot implementation of this measure. It suggests that officers are systematically ignoring departmental instructions. The organisation believes that the deployment of these measures “is likely to do more harm than good and may jeopardise the safety of prisoners and prison officers”*.

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons stated in his annual report 2017-2018 “in approximately two thirds of the institutions visited, there is an increase in the use of force against prisoners and significant deficiencies in its management. The documentation justifying the use of force is worrying in half of the institutions. The available video and documentation does not always provide evidence that the use of force was necessary or proportionate to the risk”. 2

  1. Department of Justice, press release: deployment of protective equipment for prison officers

  2. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, “Annual Report 2017-2018”. 

Placement in a unit or solitary confinement and the use of a restraint belt can be done with authorisation from the Prison governor. Belt authorisation is valid for a maximum of 24 hours.1

Officers decide if the use of handcuffs is necessary during an incident.2

The use of the baton is prohibited in units for minors, women’s facilities and category D (open) facilities.3

Restraining methods are prohibited against quadriplegic or paraplegic prisoners, women in labour or prisoners placed in category D.4

  1. Department of Justice, PSO 1700 on solitary confinement

  2. Department of Justice, PSO 1600 on the use of force

  3. Department of Justice, PSI 30/2015 amending the use of force policy

  4. National Offender Management Service and Prison Reform Trust, “Information book for prisoners with a disability”, p. 27. 

Security staff carry

of non-lethal weapons

Surveillance personnel have batons, handcuffs and sometimes PAVA sprays at their disposal.

A special intervention unit is in charge of restoring order


There are three types of specialised intervention bodies:

  • Specialised teams, organised in regional platforms, are deployed in prisons in their sector. Their mission is to sieze prohibited items (drugs, drones, telephones, etc.). They use mobile phone detection devices and work in cooperation with anti-drug teams. In 2018, the Minister of Justice announced the recruitment of more than 100 specialised prison officers.1
  • the Control & Restraint Units, also known as tornado response, are trained to intervene in the event of a major incident. They are equipped with riot helmets, fire-resistant suitsandhoods, gloves, belts, tonfas with holster, shin guards, elbow pads, intervention shoes and shields.
  • The National tactical response group (NTRG) is an elite body. It is deployed in prisons in the event of a serious incident (large-scale riots, hostage-taking, etc.). In 2017, it had 44 members. In 2018, the number of NTRG interventions in England and Wales (640) represents an increase bof almost 60% compared to 2014 (402).

Policies for prevention of radicalisation been implemented. The concerned prisoners must be, since 2017, placed in “separation centers” located within prisons. These centers are sometimes known as “prisons within prison”.1 The placement of these is the responsibility of the Secretary of State.2
The Security, Order and Counter Terrorism directorate (SOCT) assists the prison administration in preventing radicalisation. In April 2017, the Minister of State for Prisons established, a Joint Extremism Unit. It gathers and analyses the intelligence of around 100 counter-terrorism specialists.
The prevention policy includes the training of 13,000 prison officers. It is designed to “respond to the challenges posed by extremism”, improve the evaluation of chaplains, and eliminate “extremist writers“.3
A publication on dealing with and reporting extremist behaviour is addressed to staff members. (PSI publication 43/2011).It is confidential.

The prison service keeps record of incidents


The Prison service notifies the local “Police Intelligence” officer (part of the UK police force responsible for, amongst other things, compiling information on crime) in the event of particularly serious incidents of violence. In the event of a death in prison, staff must inform the police and the coroner without delay.1

Number of escapes


in 2016/2017

/ Georgina Sturge, "UK Prison Population Statistics, July 2018, p. 17.

Number of violent acts against prison staff



Around 10% of the violent episodes are serious assaults1.The number of agressions decreased by 8% compared to the previous year.

  1. According to the Ministry of Justice, serious assaults are “those which fall into one or more of the following categories: a sexual assault; requires detention in outside hospital as an in-patient; requires medical treatment for concussion or internal injuries; or incurs any of the following injuries: a fracture, scald or burn, stabbing, crushing, extensive or multiple bruising, black eye, broken nose, lost or broken tooth, cuts requiring suturing, bites, temporary or permanent blindness.” 

Collective movements are recorded


Breaches of discipline are clearly defined in writing


In the event of an infringement, the prison governor may impose one or more of the following penalties (Prison Rule 55 (1)) :

  • warning
  • remove (privileges) under Rule 8, for up to 42 days
  • exclusion from workshop work for a maximum of 21 days
  • withdrawal or elimination of salary for a maximum of 84 days and a maximum of 42 days’ salary
  • solitary confinement for up to 42 days
  • extension of sentence for up to 42 days
  • take away,without a time limit, the objects permitted, under rule 43 (1) (books, newspapers…)

The status Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) depends on a prisoner’s classification. A disciplinary fault may be the reason for their downgrading. Certain criminal offences (violence, supplying or possessing drugs or a mobile phone, escaping or concealing a weapon, etc.) may result in immediate downgrading to the basic level. Persons classified at this level are deprived, among other things, of television in their cells. Their expenses are restricted, such as mail exchange, visiting rights…1

  1. Department of Justice, PSI 30/2013 on incentives and privileges, p. 10. 

Disciplinary offences are investigated

in most of the cases

The PSO 1300 provide three types of investigation:

  • simple investigation
  • general formal investigation: in the event of an incident with serious consequences or causing serious personal harm
  • special formal investigation: if the offence specifically correlates to the criminal offence, beyond serious consequences and prejudice (financial fraud, sexual or racist harassment or discrimination, etc.).

The investigation is not compulsory if the facts are clear and unambiguous. The prison governor may delegate the investigation to a member of management. The head of a formal investigation informs the Investigation Support Section. In the event of a serious criminal offence, they appoint an investigating officer and alert the police.

The decision to apply a disciplinary sanction must be subject to an adversarial debate


Adjudication is inquisitorial (circulaire PSI 05/2018 on disciplinary proceedings against detained persons (arbitrations)).

Prisoners are allowed to be assisted by a lawyer


The prisoner may present their own defence and call witnesses. In the event of disciplinary arbitration, the prisoner is entitled to legal representation.1

The adjudicator is the prison governor or a delegated member of management. The most serious criminal offenses are referred to the police and prosecuted in court. An independent arbitrator is appointed when the case is not referred to an outside jurisdiction and the prisoner is facing an extension of their sentence. This independent arbitrator is a district judge, or a deputy approved by the Lord Chancellor.

The arbitrator shall investigate the facts impartially. The officer hears from the reporting officer, the accused and any witnesses. He considers all written or physical evidence. He decides on the basis of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt and imposes the punishment.1

Prisoners may appeal against disciplinary sanctions


Any prisoner may request a formal review of a disciplinary arbitration by a prison governor or a minor report 1. The person, or their legal counsel, must complete, within six weeks of the hearing, a form (DIS8) sent to the director. The procedure is sped up when the person is in solitary confinement. The request is directed to the Prisoner Casework Section of the Prison Service.2

  1. Type of report used in certain facilities concerning the least serious facts and giving rise to an appearance within 48 hours. 

  2. Department of Justice, PSI 05/2018 on disciplinary proceedings against prisoner (arbitrations),p. 42. 

Disciplinary sanctions can be imposed as a collective punishment


Disciplinary sanctions may have an impact on sentence length. The extension cannot exceed 42 days.1

  1. Department of Justice, Prison Rule 55(1)

Solitary confinement can be used as

  • punishment
  • protection of person
  • security

The reasons for solitary confinement are :

  • to preserve order and discipline or prisoner protection (Prison Rule 45 / Rule 49 of Juvenile Facilities)
  • close supervision, in a dedicated unit (Close Supervision Centre of the prison/ Prison Rule 46) for those prisoners deemed to be the most disruptive.
  • the separation of prisoners awaiting disciplinary arbitration (Prison Rule 53(4) / Rule 58(4) of Juvenile Facilities)
  • to punish a disciplinary offence (Prison Rule 55(e) / Rule 60(f) of the Rules for Juvenile Facilities).
  • to remove a prisoner guilty of a disciplinary offence from their ward or unit (Prison Rule 55(h) / Rule 60(g) of juvenile facilities).
  • to separate prisoners on hygiene strike, to preserve order and discipline (Prison Rule 45 / Rule 49 of Juvenile Facilities). They shall be placed in a special cell in the solitary confinement unit or in a suitable room.1

Staff may place a prisoner in a protective cell when there is a risk of suicide or self-harm. These cells may be located in disciplinary or isolation wards. The administration, however, does not consider them to be isolation rooms.

Solitary confinement implies specific access to telephones, showers, activities, etc.

  1. Department of Justice, PSO 1700 on solitary confinement

  • Prisoners at a Manchester prison can no longer leave their cells. Visits are suspended. The prisoners also report being deprived of showers and exercise for several days now. One meal per day is brought to prisoners in their cells by prison staff. The Ministry of Justice stated that this confinement is the result of an “intelligence-led operation” aiming to crack down on a contraband network.

    / Manchester Evening News

Solitary confinement is decided

  • magistrate’s order
  • governor’s decision

The governor decides if solitary confinement is necessary to preserve order, discipline or the protection of the person. The Secretary of State is responsible of the placement in a Close Supervision Centre.1

  1. Department of Justice, PSO 1700 on solitary confinement

The duration for placement in solitary confinement is limited


but it is subject to review.

Solitary confinement can be extended


The solitary confinement measure is subject to regular review


The first Review Board is held within 72 hours of placement. The frequency of subsequent boards is decided by the governor and their regional superior. It is at least 14 days.

The Secretary of State delegates to the Deputy Director of Custody (DDC) the decision on any placement exceeding 42 consecutive days. Each new 42-day period is subject to their approval. This cycle is reduced to 21 days in youth facilities.

Extension of solitary confinement beyond six months (three months in juvenile facilities) is subject to the approval of the Operational Director.1

  1. Department of Justice, Letter to governor of Public and Private Institutions: Implementation of New Laws and Policies Resulting from the Supreme Court Decision on solitary confinement of Prisoners, 4 September 2015. 

Prisoners in solitary confinement receive regular medical care


A doctor or qualified nursing staff assesses each prisoner who is subject to isolation. Within the first two hours of isolation, the physician or nurse completes the Initial Segregation Health Screen. A prisoner undergoing an ACCT1 procedure shall undergo a psychological examination within 24 hours.

The person in solitary confinement is visited daily by a member of the medical profession. The doctor is required to visit at least once every three days, or more often if the patient’s condition requires it.2

  1. Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork, procedure for following up a suicidal or self-aggressive prisoner. 

  2. Department of Justice, PSO 1700 on solitary confinement

High security institutions all have solitary confinement blocks. The others have dedicated wards or cells.

Cells vary depending on the reason for solitary confinement:

  • the sanctioned prisoner is placed in an ordinary cell set up for that purpose. It will be equipped with a bed, bedding, table and seat. Access to sanitary facilities is guaranteed at all times. Furniture or fittings may be authorised at the discretion of the governor.
  • “violent or uncooperative” prisoners are placed in a special cell, empty of all objects and furniture, and sanitary facilities. This type of cell may not be used as a punishment.1

The Chief Inspector of correctional facilities deplores the indiscriminate and careless use of special cells in some institutions.2

  1. Ministry of Justice , PSO publication 1700 on isolation

  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons, “Annual Report 2017-2018”. 

Prisoners in solitary confinement have the same access to physical activities as other prisoners (PSI 75/2011).

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons found that in most of the institutions visited, there was a lack of daily access to telephones, showers, outdoor physical activities or any other form of activities.1

  1. HM Inspectorate of Prisons, “Annual Report 2017-2018”. 

  • A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice stated that prisoners do not spend 23 hours per day in their cells. The Prison Reform Trust organisation questions this statement based on the conditions reported by prisoners and their lengthy correspondence with the Ministry on this topic.

    / Prison Reform Trust
  • A study of over 1,400 prisoners in ten prisons was conducted by researchers who are former prisoners themselves. The study focused on the emergency lockdown conditions introduced during the Covid pandemic. Of the prisoners who responded to the survey, 85% said that they had been held in cells for over 23 hours per day, for several consecutive months. Their access to reintegration programmes, visits and regular exercise were suspended. Some restrictions are still in place even though they have been lifted outside of prisons. Half of the prisoners stated that they were still confined for 23 hours per day in February 2022.

    / The Guardian

Under Prison Rule 45 (YOI 49), as many activities as possible, excluding communal activities, should be maintained for prisoners in solitary confinement. Distance learning and work that can be carried out in cells is encouraged. Certain rights or privileges, such as possession of a television, radio or CD player, contact with fellow inmates or access to physical activities, are used as incentives, rewards or punishments.1

  1. Department of Justice, PSO 1700 on solitary confinement

The maintenance of family ties is guaranteed1, excluding prisoners who have been downgraded to the basic IEP level (incentives and privileges) after a disciplinary sanction. In such cases, their visitation rights and mail correspondence is limited.2

  1. Department of Justice, PSO 1700 on solitary confinement

  2. Department of Justice, PSI 30/2013 on incentives and privileges, p. 14.