Prisoners with gang links could be transferred into higher-security jails under plans to choke off the influence of criminal kingpins behind bars.

MP for South West Hertfordshire David Gauke, who is also the Justice Secretary, is weighing up a major change to rules underpinning decisions on where inmates are held as part of a drive to stem the flow of drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into the prison estate.

Currently prisoners are assigned security categories according to their sentence length and escape risk.

Those at the highest levels are held in establishments or wings with more restrictive regimes.

Inmates can be moved during their sentence if their categorisation is raised or downgraded.

Under the proposals being examined by the Government, a new factor - the risk of continuing criminality in prison - would be taken into account when determining security categories.

If adopted, the move would be a "critical tool" in helping cut off kingpins from directing illegal activity both inside and outside prison, officials said.

Authorities estimate there are approximately 6,500 offenders in prison in total associated with organised crime - roughly equivalent to one in every 13 inmates.

In his first major speech on prisons since his appointment in January, Mr Gauke warned new technologies have "empowered" smuggling gangs to be more "sophisticated and brazen" in their methods.

Mr Gauke said: "From the conventional to the cunning, by design or device, through fear or intimidation, these criminal gangs will stop at nothing to maintain their access to such a lucrative market.

"We are taking action to bolster our defences at the prison gate and going after the organised criminal gangs.

"I want them to know that as a result of the action we are taking, they have no place to hide.

"Through our covert and intelligence-led operations, we will track them down."

He pledged to remove the influence of gangs from prisons so they can become "places of hope not despair".