Power, control, restraint
: the category A prisoner in the dispersal prison system

  • Simon Price

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis presents the experiences endured and knowledge acquired during 14 years as a Category A prisoner in high security dispersal prisons. From that perspective the restrictive rules, regulations and regimes that impact on the lives of an academically overlooked cohort of prisoners 'whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public or the police or to the security of the State' are subjected to critical appraisal. I have focused on the minutiae of institutional arrangements to illuminate an unmediated and unrecorded exposition of prisonlife for a category A prisoner.
The origins of dispersal prisons and security classifications are outlined to provide context to the central theme of what it means to be labelled as category A. An essential prerequisite for the continued existence of dispersal prisons is that there must always be a sufficiency of prisoners deemed worthy of category A status. Currently, less than 25% of the population in dispersal prisons is category A. I contend that the category A system is now redundant: the pool of criminality from which category A prisoners are so designated has shrunk. Armed robbers, once the mainstay of the system, are no longer extant and an organised IRA has been replaced by Islamic terrorists, the most dangerous of whom are isolated in anti-radicalisation units. Thus the typical Category A prisoner has, by and large, disappeared but sadly the system remains. The dispersal system is an obsolete, highly expensive anachronism with the original concept of 'a liberal regime within a secure perimeter' barely a memory. In their current form dispersal prisons are cruel and oppressive and serve no meaningful purpose. Category A categorisation is flawed, obsolete and nonsensical. The effects of supply and demand have perverted the system and decision making on Category A status is unintelligent, ineffective and needlessly cruel. Finally, the use and abuse of a virtually unrestrained power to segregate those prisoners deemed to be troublesome and dangerous is placed in context and the current procedure is analysed.
Date of AwardDec 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorFrancis Pakes (Supervisor)

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