Lighting For Prisons

Article reproduced from December 2019 issue of the Lighting Journal.

Prisons can be challenging environments from a lighting perspective, as luminaires need to be robust, reliable, impact-, tamper- and attack-resistant, prevent inmates from self-harming and be easy to maintain.

With our prison estate expanding, it is perhaps unsurprising that LED solutions are becoming increasingly attractive. Our custodial specialist, Steve Tilling, looks at the challenges facing this unique market sector.

Whether lighting a 19th century building or a new “super prison”, safety is the key consideration. Ensuring the wellbeing of prisoners and operational personnel is of the utmost importance. A custodial luminaire must pass stringent Ministry of Justice (MoJ) standards. This includes real world destruction tests which utilise implements that could be available to a prisoner such as chair legs and pool cues.

Impact resistance is governed by the European Standard EN 60068-2-75 which tests the joules of energy a luminaire can resist. A compliant luminaire is given an IK rating. The highest IK rating, IK10, is equal to an impact of 20 joules of energy. However, in custodial environments this level of impact resistance is simply not adequate. Designplan have built a drop-test rig which can create impacts up to 250 joules of energy, 12.5 times more than an IK10 rated fitting, to ensure our luminaires are fit for purpose.

Preventing self-harming is a key safety concern in custodial applications. MoJ standards state that in ‘safer cell’ applications “the luminaires must be designed so as to reduce the potential for a prisoner to attach a ligature in order to attempt suicide”. This is achieved by minimising the aperture between the luminaire’s diffuser and body, incorporating anti-pick mastic around the base plate of the fitting and utilising tamper proof screws.

To resist extended periods of naked flame attack, specially designed diffusers are incorporated into custodial light fittings to stop holes being created which could be used to attach ligatures or store contraband. In addition, a wire mesh can be incorporated into a luminaire as another way to help prevent a fitting from being breached.

Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is very important. Many general custodial areas can be lit to BS5266-1:2016. However, the MoJ has a very stringent set of specific emergency lighting standards. These require enhanced lighting levels, which go over and above normal emergency lighting levels, for high risk areas, secured doors or gatelines and defined escape routes.

Cost of ownership and ease of maintenance have become increasingly important in custodial applications.  LED light engines have been the most significant product innovation in the lighting industry in the past 20 years. LED ensures a higher level of illumination, longer running times and significantly reduced energy use. For example, when compared to traditional fluorescent luminaires, LED light fittings can use up to 65% less energy. The MoJ is the second largest government department in terms of size and estate running costs. This equated to over £500m in 2017/18*. Therefore, the opportunity of utilizing LED technology, when upgrading or replacing existing antiquated lighting in the MoJ Estate, is significant. This energy reduction counts towards the overall zero carbon target the government has committed to by 2050.

The cost of replacing old fluorescent lighting with LED can be significant. Luminaires with removable gear trays enable custodial facilities to easily adopt the latest technology upgrades quickly and cost effectively.

Retrofitting Questions

However, retrofitting into an existing fluorescent fitting constitutes a fundamental alteration to the product. When retrofitting, operators of custodial applications must be aware of the golden rule: CE + CE doesn’t equal CE. Recertification, testing and re-CE marking as a new product is mandatory. Providing energy savings in custodial applications is obvious. However, this should only be introduced in accordance with the compliance laid out by the MoJ and without ignoring basic safety measures in this specialised sector.

The logistics of moving prisoners from block to block to carry out maintenance is a major consideration in custodial applications, especially in large prisons. Luminaires that incorporate removeable gear trays not only save energy but ensure quick and easy upgrades, resulting in less disruption to prisoners and staff.

The Prison Estates Transformation Programme (PETP), has committed to providing an additional 10,000 new prison places by 2020. Whilst this will be a challenge to deliver, there is an opportunity to incorporate innovation in lighting with the construction of new build prisons. Simple lighting controls, daylight saving and using lighting systems to incorporate other services will all ensure PETP is delivered in the most energy efficient way with the lighting element fit for purpose both now and in the future.


To summarise, when specifying light fittings for custodial environments the safety of prisoners and staff is paramount. The construction of the product is very important, as is compliance to various standards. Easy maintenance and reduced energy consumption are also key drivers as custodial applications look to retrofit existing luminaires to LED or build new facilities which maximise the use of the latest lighting technology.

* Source – State of the Estate 2017/18 report. Author: Cabinet Office

Speak to our expert:

Our custodial specialist Steve Tilling has worked in the manufacturing, design and delivery of lighting solutions for over 20 years and has a wealth of experience in various sectors of the industry. Steve has managed the lighting element of major projects including large scale custodial, infrastructure and commercial office programmes including various landmark installations including Crossrail, Heathrow Terminal 5 and Wembley Stadium.

Steve joined Designplan Lighting in 2015 and is the National Sales Manager for our Custodial Sector. Steve bridges the link between our clients in the MoJ, designers, project deliverers and ongoing FM maintenance providers. Steve ensures the technical lighting requirements of the sector are defined and delivered.

If you have any queries or require further information, then please contact Steve on 07879 418690 or e-mail