What is a Correctional Nurse?

A correctional nurse provides medical care, education, and support to incarcerated individuals and prison staff.

These healthcare professionals primarily operate in jails, correctional facilities, and juvenile detention centers.

While caring for incarcerated people and prison staff, correctional nurses perform various medical duties.

What Do Correctional Nurses Do?

Correctional nurses have numerous responsibilities to assess and treat inmates and staff.

It includes recording patient/staff health and vitals, examining their medical history, and performing health screenings.

Correctional nurses also administer medications, dress wounds, perform IV therapy, and assist with rehabilitation.

These healthcare professionals often have a full examination room and state-of-the-art medical equipment.

It includes x-ray machines, IV supplies & examination equipment), and various medications to treat ill or injured patients.

These medical essentials enable the nurses and medical teams to provide adequate care to inmates and facility staff.

Correctional Nurse Responsibilities:

  • Provide health and safety education
  • Interview inmates and staff
  • Review medical records
  • Perform health screenings
  • Conduct wellness check-ups
  • Update medical records
  • Administer medications
  • Monitor medical supplies
  • Dress wounds and injuries
  • Perform IV therapy
  • Prepare inmates for hospital visits
  • Assist with rehabilitation
  • Support other medical staff

The Medical Team

Correctional nurses work with various healthcare professionals to ensure staff and inmates receive adequate care.

It includes LPNs, nurse practitioners, physicians, mental health nurses, and psychologists.

Jointly, these specialists assess and treat inmates and staff requiring medical assistance in the correctional facility.

Some medical professionals may be on call or stationed at the correctional facility at specific times.

However, correctional nurses often operate 24/7 to ensure staff and inmates receive adequate care.

Sometimes they operate alone or in small groups for long periods without aid or supervision.

As a result, correctional nurses must be highly educated and self-disciplined.

These specialists work consistently with other highly trained medical professionals in more dangerous or severe settings.

They’ll also receive additional support and safety from correctional facility staff.

Where Do Correctional Nurses Work?

Those who work as correctional nurses operate in the medical areas of various disciplinary institutions.

It includes state, federal, government, or community-run correctional facilities, prisons, detention centers, and jails.

Occupational Settings:

  • Correctional facilities
  • State and federal prisons
  • Detention centers
  • Local jails
  • Privately owned facilities
  • Other disciplinary institutions

Correctional nurses often work in all-men or all-women facilities or zones.

Each institution also functions differently based on the type of incarcerated individuals they hold.

As a result, the facility’s safety procedures, healthcare needs, and medical staff requirements may vary.

Work Schedule

Correctional nurses typically work a 40-hour work week.

These healthcare professionals operate 24/7 due to the nature of their job.

Correctional institutions always require medical staff to treat inmate and facility staff injuries and illnesses.

As a result, these nurses work morning, evening, and night shifts to support the correctional facility adequately.

Some correctional facilities determine the nurse’s work schedule by necessity or tenure to ensure fairness in the workplace.

Therefore, correctional nurses with more tenure may receive better schedules.

Necessary Skills

Correctional nurses must have excellent assessment skills when working in correctional institutions.

They must also be patient and caring, even-tempered, and strongly desire to help those requiring medical assistance.

Correctional nurses ensure that incarcerated inmates receive fair treatment and adequate medical care.

As a result, they advocate for improved healthcare standards for the inmates and correctional facility staff members.

How to Become a Correctional Nurse

Becoming a correctional nurse is rewarding for those who want to ensure every person receives adequate medical care and support.

Nevertheless, there are numerous steps individuals must complete to operate in this profession.

It includes entering nursing school, earning a degree, passing the NCLEX-RN, accumulating experience, and getting certified.

The following helps aspiring correctional nurses acquire jobs in jails, correctional facilities, and juvenile detention centers.

1. Join a Nursing Program

The first step to becoming a correctional nurse is to join a nursing school.

Students must complete multiple prerequisite courses and maintain an acceptable GPA to enter the nursing program.

It takes approximately 1 – 2 years to complete the necessary prerequisites based on the student’s prior education.

However, some programs enable students to begin the application process one semester before finishing prerequisites.

It enables qualifying nursing students to get a head start on their application and iron out any qualification issues.

2. Obtain an ADN or BSN

Students who join the nursing program can pursue either an ADN or BSN degree.

The ADN degree takes roughly 18 – 24 months to complete and provides the fastest route to becoming a registered nurse.

This degree is perfect for students who want to quickly enter the field, make money, and gain experience.

However, it is challenging for registered nurses to operate in more technical roles with an ADN.

Healthcare institutions also prefer registered nurses with a BSN because they receive more extensive education.

The BSN degree takes 36 – 48 months to complete, enabling registered nurses to pursue more specialized careers.

As a result, the BSN is ideal for nursing students in non-entry-level careers and advanced positions.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN

After completing nursing school, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain licensure.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) administers the NCLEX exam.

This exam tests a graduate’s nursing knowledge to ensure they have adequate training and education to work effectively.

4. Gain Work Experience

Most correctional facilities want registered nurses with several years of clinical experience in direct patient care.

As a result, working in a hospital, long-term care facility, or clinical environment is highly beneficial.

Obtaining experience in emergency or urgent care is also beneficial.

However, it is optional to become a correctional nurse in most cases.

After obtaining adequate experience, registered nurses may apply for entry-level jobs in correctional facilities.

Nurses that accrue 2,000 hours of practice in a correctional setting within three years can take the CCHP-RN certification.

5. Acquire Certification

Acquiring CCHP-RN certification is highly beneficial for aspiring correctional nurses.

This certificate provides training on safety and security procedures and clinical management of incarcerated patients.

It also provides education about health promotion, maintenance, and professional roles and responsibilities.

As a result, getting certified is essential for ensuring nurses have adequate training and expertise to operate competently.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care offers the CCHP RN certification.

It enables healthcare professionals to operate effectively and efficiently as correctional nurses.

Other specialty exams include the CCHP-MH and CCHP-P certifications.

Common Challenges Correctional Nurses Face

Correctional nurses face numerous challenges throughout their careers.

It includes carefully ensuring they follow proper facility guidelines, managing potential physical/verbal aggression, exposure to viruses, blood, and other contagions, and numerous other challenges.

These healthcare specialists must assess diverse incidents and emergencies quickly and often with little equipment.

They must also have a good understanding of the facility layout, correctional staff, and safety protocols.

Correctional nurses work with detainees, inmates, lawyers, correctional staff, physicians, therapists/mental health specialists, and other personnel.

As a result, excellent communication skills and teamwork is essential to ensure inmates and staff have adequate medical care and protection.

Following Facility Guidelines

Due to the risks correctional staff and personnel face, it’s vital to document incidents carefully and follow facility guidelines.

Not correctly documenting incidents, procedures, and reports can result in various disciplinary actions, including job loss or even losing their nursing licensure.

Some correctional nurses use malpractice insurance to protect themselves from legal claims and unexpected incidents.

They also ensure a witness, such as a correctional officer, accompanies them to emergencies or incidents.

It enables them to be more protected from legal claims and physical harm, and other potential issues.

New correctional nurses must thoroughly study the guidelines and consult staff, as the risk of losing licensure can be high for those unfamiliar with the facility’s policies and procedures.

Physical/Verbal Aggression

The physical/verbal risks correctional nurses face vary depending on the facility.

Low-risk jails and minimum security prisons are often easier to manage than high-risk penitentiaries.

Low-risk inmates include first-time offenders, minor crimes/misdemeanors, and those with short jail sentences.

Comparatively, high-risk inmates include those with felonies in long-term, maximum-security prisons, and penitentiaries.

Correctional nursing isn’t ideal for everyone. It requires extreme discipline, confidence, compassion, and a strong spirit.

The higher the facility’s risk, the more significant it is for correctional nurses to understand and abide by its policies/guidelines.

Documenting incidents/treatments, maintaining security, and securing narcotics/medications and medical equipment are vital.

Nurses unfamiliar with correctional facility nursing may experience burnout, fatigue, and mental health challenges.

Working in settings where convicts/staff experience violence, verbal abuse, confinement, and threats can be challenging.

As a result, developing healthy connections with correctional staff, therapists/psychologists, and other medical staff is vital.

That said, low-risk facilities can be more manageable due to the low-level offenses/crimes and housed inmates.

Nurses in these facilities often manage inmates with less severe criminal records and have an easier to handle their duties.

Exposure to Viruses and Blood

As with hospitals, correctional nurses face exposure to viruses, blood, and other hazards.

However, managing these hazards can be more challenging in high-risk settings with more opportunities for conflict.

Properly sanitizing the facility/medical equipment, ensuring the area is safe, and using proper protective gear are vital.

Maintaining adequate staff and security is essential to ensure medical treatments can be given with minimal risk of harm.

Mental Health and Burnout

As mentioned, high levels of violence/verbal abuse, treating inmates with mental health conditions, and risks to germs, blood, and viruses can lead to mental and physical health challenges.

The confinement of jails/prisons and penitentiaries can also cause burnout.

Registered nurses operating in correctional facilities must receive adequate assistance throughout their careers.

A good therapist, social groups, external interests, and mental/physical health exercises can help stressed nurses at work.

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