Five Reasons Correctional Nurses Need Clinical Judgment Skill

Green plant mazeIn corrections, nurses are usually the first health care professional to assess a health concern or complaint. Patients present with virtually every type of health problem, and many have co-occurring conditions that can complicate the diagnosis and plan of care. Therefore, correctional nursing practice requires knowledge and experience with a broad array of conditions and presenting problems to make clinical judgments about the nature of the problem, actions to be taken, and urgency of response.

Correctional nurses also coordinate and negotiate for the delivery of care within the restrictions and expectations of the organization, which requires decision-making conviction. Clinical judgment guides direct care delivered by the nurse as well as communication with others to coordinate care and ensure patient safety. Accuracy in judgment improves patient outcomes and quality of care by eliminating unnecessary actions and reducing delay in definitive care and treatment.

Although every nursing specialty has its challenges, correctional nursing involves complex situations that can appear simple, but aren’t. There are many unknown factors in sizing up a situation. Correctional nurses are most-often the first healthcare provider to see the patient situation. As a gatekeeper, the nurse must make a fairly autonomous judgment on what needs to be done and who needs to be involved.

Here are five reasons clinical judgment is especially important for correctional nurses:

  1. Detainees or inmates are entitled to a clinical judgment under the 8th or 14th amendment whenever attention to a health concern is requested. See this post for more information on the right to a clinical judgment.
  2. Nurses most often are the first health care provider to see a detainee or inmate for any health concern. The nurse’s clinical judgment will determine if the person sees any of the other health care providers and if so, how soon.
  3. Ineffective clinical judgment affects the patient adversely now and perhaps in the future, it affects other nursing staff and providers. It can also affect our relationship with custody staff.
  4. Correctional nurses must make judgments in a wide array of situations from minor discomforts to life-threatening emergencies.
  5. And, they must do it while navigating the correctional environment with safety, location, and resource challenges.

What other reasons are there for correctional nurses to be skillful in clinical judgment? Share your ideas in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © leungchopan – Fotolia.com

Clinical Judgment: A Vital Correctional Nurse Competency

decisionsRhonda has been called to the booking area to medically screen a 44 year old man brought by the police on charges of driving a stolen vehicle and drinking while driving. On the way to jail he hit his head on the window of the squad car. Approaching the area she sees an obese white male, hands cuffed behind his back, leaning facedown on the booking counter, propped up by two police. The man is yelling that he is going to faint and can’t breathe.  A chair is brought so he can sit and Rhonda notes that he is diaphoretic and flushed in the face. He reports that he has prescriptions for two inhalers but otherwise has no medical problems. His voice tone is belligerent and he is dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and sandals;  inappropriate for the winter weather. Rhonda can see that his legs and feet are mottled and swollen. He also has a swollen area over his eyebrow on the right side and the eye on that side is swollen shut. There are four policemen waiting for the nurse to screen the arrestee and another six custody officers waiting to proceed with booking. 

Christine Tanner, a nurse researcher, has studied expert nurses to determine components of clinical judgment and when it is most specifically needed. She found that clinical judgment skills were particularly important when

  • The clinical problem or concern is undetermined;
  • The presenting data is ambiguous; and
  • When the situation presents conflicts among individuals with competing interests

Our case above has all three elements. Rhonda has a problem to solve and she needs to do it quickly amidst competing interests – the patient’s, the police, and the correctional officers. The patient condition is undetermined at the moment. Rhonda cannot merely review the patient’s medical record for a list of diagnoses. His presenting data is ambiguous and non-specific. The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.

Tanner reviewed 200 studies on clinical judgment in nursing practice. From this review she concluded that a nursing clinical judgment involved the following components:

  • Gaining a grasp of the situation holistically
  • Seeking an understanding of the situation which is beyond just the objective findings on assessment
  • Considering factors contributing to the presentation
  • Attending to the patient’s response to the nurse
  • Deciding an appropriate course of action
  • Reviewing outcomes and making changes as needed

What clinical judgment do you think Rhonda made in this situation? Even though there was pressure to book the man, she was concerned about a concussion and his respiratory condition. She did not approve him medically for booking and he was sent on to the hospital emergency room. There it was discovered that, although he was intoxicated, he did have a mild concussion, and, more importantly, was discovered to have moderate congestive heart failure. He was in the hospital for over a week.

Have you had a challenging patient presentation that seemed ambiguous at the time or had competing interests to consider? Share your story in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © mstanley13 – Fotolia.com

Win a Copy of My New Book! Enter by November 1

3DBookI am excited to announce that my newest publication – The Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook – is now available for purchase on Amazon (affiliate link). It is a steal at $29.50 for print and $9.99 for the Kindle version. But, even better is to get a free copy, right! So, I’m holding a raffle for 3  correctionalnurse.net readers to get an autographed copy sent directly to you. How cool is that?

Just click on this link and enter your first name and email address. If you are a winner I will contact you for a mailing address for the book. You can enter once per day until November 1 – so you have plenty of opportunity to win!

Why do you need this book?

Most of us entered health care to help those who are ill, injured, or suffering. Yet our patient care systems can get in the way, leading to patient harm instead of the quality care we intended. The Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook provides practical evidence-based help to improve your clinical program and, thereby, reduce clinical error, managing risk and improving clinical quality. By reading this book, you will discover:

  • How a patient safety framework can reduce legal liability while enhancing continuous quality improvement efforts
  • The best methods to assess and improve an organizational culture to support patient safety
  • The key ways therapeutic systems support patient safety
  • Why communication and teamwork are so important for reducing clinical error
  • How to involve your patients to reduce errors and liability
  • The practitioner issues that can sink your clinical program and what to do about them

So, click on the link and enter to win your own copy!

Correctional Nursing Peer Review (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Peer Review for Nurses? Many correctional health care settings are gearing up for correctional nursing peer review as NCCHC implements new accreditation standards this month. In this episode correctional nurse experts Catherine Knox, Kathy Page, Becky Pinney, and Pat Voermans join Lorry to discuss correctional nursing peer review and changes in the NCCHC accreditation standards for standard C-02 – Performance Enhancement.

The performance enhancement standard has been around for many years and focused on peer review for medical providers. This latest revision now includes all licensed staff; thus adding RN and LPN team members to the peer review process.

Panelists discuss the importance of this change for correctional nurses and nurse leaders. They also dispel some common misconceptions about nursing peer review; differentiating peer review from annual performance review and competency evaluation. Practical ways to perform nursing peer review are also described.

A series of blog posts about correctional nursing peer review can be found on the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog.

In The Nursing News

How is Ebola Transmitted?

Lots in the news about the Ebola virus hitting US soil. Since much is still unknown about the virus and no vaccine or medication treatment is yet available, it is important to be careful around anyone who may be infected. Nurses, in particular, spend time in close contact with patients so we need to know about transmission and protection. On October 15 the CDC increased their caregiver protection barriers to more closely match World Health Organization recommendations. Standard precautions for droplet and body fluid contamination were enhanced with double gloving and full body coverage, including head and neck. Important points:

  1. Ebola has been detected in blood and many body fluids. Body fluids include saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen.
  2. The virus is spread by direct contact; meaning that body fluids (blood, saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, or feces) from an infected person (alive or dead) have touched someone’s eyes, nose, or mouth or an open cut, wound, or abrasion.
  3. Ebola is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants (such as household bleach). Ebola on dried on surfaces such as doorknobs and countertops can survive for several hours; however, virus in body fluids (such as blood) can survive up to several days at room temperature.
  4. Although coughing and sneezing are not common symptoms of Ebola, if a symptomatic patient with Ebola coughs or sneezes on someone, and saliva or mucus come into contact with that person’s eyes, nose or mouth, these fluids may transmit the disease.

Would your health care unit have the equipment necessary to protect you should you need to isolate a patient for evaluation for Ebola infection? Think about this now and have the conversation. Be prepared.

Men with Osteoporosis are Neglected

The International Osteoporosis Foundation has published a report on osteoporosis in men. Although we tend to think about osteoporosis as an elderly female condition, a third of all hip fractures occur in men. Men are prone to brittle bones as they age; particularly after the age of 70 when testosterone reduces significantly. Other factors contributing to osteoporosis in men include smoking, drinking more than 2 drinks per day, low vitamin D levels, a family history and taking certain medication such as cortisone, antiepileptic drugs and SSRI antidepressives. If you care for elderly male inmates, consider osteoporosis and concern for falls.

USPSTF: Screen Everyone 45 and Older for Abnormal Glucose

The US Preventive Services Task Force drafted new diabetes screening guidelines recommending that everyone 45 years and older should be screened for abnormal blood glucose and type 2 diabetes. They hope to identify those with abnormal glucose levels to initiate lifestyle interventions before the condition progresses to diabetes. The guidelines are open for comment until early November, 2014.

Patients Listen More to Female Doctors

An interesting French study suggests that patients heed guidance more regularly from female providers than from male. The study design hypothesized that patients would listen more to a physician of the same gender but it turns out that both male and female patients were more disposed to listen to a female physician. Based on this and prior research the authors suggest that female doctors may be more collaborative with patients and male doctors more dominant. Also, earlier studies have shown that women doctors report feeling more comfortable discussing personal and sensitive issues. It would be interesting to see a similar study regarding nurse-patient relationships.

Making Ends Meet: The Blunt End and Sharp End of Clinical Error

A 33 year old male inmate from a maximum security state prison was admitted to a community hospital with flank pain and hematuria. His Arrow Chamber Funnel ChartINR was discovered to be 8.2 (therapeutic range 2-3). His medical history included deep vein thrombus resulting from Protein S deficiency. A medication error investigation revealed that the patient had been receiving three times the amount of the current order of warfarin (Coumadin) and no INR diagnostic tests had been completed for the last 2 weeks.

Investigating What Went Wrong

Hundreds of doses of medication are administered every day in most correctional facilities so it is not surprising that medication errors are some of the most common to emerge in practice. Investigating errors can lead to information necessary to make improvements to reduce future risk. An error can result from poor decisions and actions along the entire medication use system: ordering, transcribing, dispensing, administering and monitoring. Often poor practices are found in several areas that result in an incident.

Blunt End/Sharp End Evaluation of Clinical Errors

A helpful model of error causation looks at the various components of a clinical error as an inverted triangle with the point of care being at the sharp end and the various complexities of organizational structure, system, and process being at the blunt end; removed from the actual error episode. Blunt end components, then, contribute to an environment that either encourages or does not prevent the error under consideration.

Case Analysis by Blunt End/Sharp End

Figure 1.2The Blunt End/Sharp End model provides a framework for evaluating a clinical error like the one described above.

Sharp End: Investigating the sharp end of the error focuses on the actions of the clinicians in direct contact with the patient. Here are some sharp end investigation questions for this case:

  • Did the nurse follow standard medication administration safety steps when administering the recent doses of warfarin?
  • Were there multiple strengths of the medication in the medication cart and did the nurse administer an incorrect dose?
  • Did the prescribing provider order the strength of the doses administered?
  • Did the prescribing provider order INR lab tests?
  • Were the tests completed but not reviewed or documented in the medical record?

Blunt End: Investigating the blunt end of the error focuses on the policies, procedures, systems, resources, and constraints surrounding the incident. Here are some blunt end investigation questions for this case:

  • What are the policies regarding INR evaluation while on warfarin?
  • What tracking systems are in place for patients on anticoagulation medication?
  • Is there an adequate process for discontinuing previous medication dosing when new dosing is ordered?
  • Are nurses working in this area appropriately oriented to the medication administration process?
  • What percentage of the nursing staff are new, float, or agency staff?
  • How much overtime or double shifts are nurses in this unit working?
  • What communication system is in place for nurses to question medication orders?

Always Look Upstream

When investigating significant errors such as the one above, it is easy to fall into several mental biases.

Attribution error bias: It is easy to pin an error on a character flaw or defect of the clinician at the sharp end of the error. Rather than look for all issues, evaluators stop at the shortcomings of staff members involved in the incident.

Confirmation bias: Making a quick judgment of the cause of an error can lead to accepting evidence that supports that judgment while neglecting evidence that would favor other causes. If an organization is prone to evaluating only the sharp end of a clinical event, evidence supporting this view would encourage investigators to stop looking elsewhere.

Hindsight bias: Actions and outcomes viewed after the fact show an ‘obvious’ path of cause and effect. At the time of the actual event, however, multiple possibilities vie for attention, making the future less apparent. Investigators must consider the event from a perspective of an unsure outcome.

By intentionally looking upstream to the blunt end of a clinical situation, the full picture is able to be evaluated and meaningful process and system corrections can be made; leading to reduced risk of future error.

In the case presented above, faulty medication discontinuation practices, poor interdisciplinary communication (both written and verbal), along with inconsistent medication validation at the point of administration contributed to the poor patient outcome.

How do you evaluate clinical error in your setting? Share your process in the comments section of this post.

Information from this post comes from Chapter 1 of my new book: Correctional Health Care Patient Safety Handbook: Reduce Clinical Error, Manage Risk, and Improve Quality (affiliate link). Click on the link to purchase a print or ebook version. Or, enter my raffle for your own free copy – 3 winners. Hurry, raffle ends November 1: Raffle for a Free Copy of the Patient Safety Handbook

Photo Credit: © John Takai – Fotolia.com

What is Your Correctional Nurse Work Style?

Many different beautiful butterfliesA major challenge for many in correctional nursing is adjusting to the work environment. A correctional facility is not run like a hospital and health care is not the primary mission. Correctional officers often have different goals and worldviews than healthcare staff. Nurses can have difficulty assimilating into the organizational culture while maintaining a professional nursing perspective. That’s why I found this research about the work styles of jail nurses so interesting.

Hardesty, Champion, and Champion interviewed 26 registered and licensed practical nurses working in jails in three northern states. Patterns and themes emerged as the transcribed interviews were analyzed. One interesting finding was a proposed typology of jail nurse work styles. This typology chronicles the adjustment of a new nurse to the correctional culture and the effect of that adjustment on their ability to function successfully. The categories are based primarily on the balance the nurse is able to gain practicing professionally while understanding the security perspective and organizational culture.

Check out this continuum of jail nurse work styles and see if you can find yourself, or some of your nurse colleagues, in the descriptions.

Idealist

  • Rejects or fails to understand the security perspective
  • Nursing perspective is the primary consideration
  • Poorly socialized to the custody staff culture

Realist

  • Acknowledges and respects the security perspective
  • Nursing perspective remains the primary consideration
  • Socialized to the custody staff culture

Situationalist

  • Alternates between the security and the nursing perspective
  • Nursing perspective is optional
  • Not yet socialized to the custody staff culture

Acceptor

  • Accepts the security perspective
  • Minimally acknowledges the nursing perspective
  • Socialized to the custody staff culture

Identifier

  • Extreme acceptance of and identification with the security perspective
  • Considers nursing perspective not applicable in a jail environment
  • Well socialized to custody staff culture

So, what is the optimum work style? The researchers do not clearly note the best work style and suggest that more research is needed. My vote is for the Realist style as this nurse is able to maintain a professional nursing perspective while understanding the perspective of correctional officers and socializing to the correctional culture. This provides an atmosphere of respect and understanding among peers while allowing for professional nursing practice.

So, what do you think? Which work style is the most favorable for correctional nursing practice? Do you see examples of these work styles in your facility? How does it affect patient outcomes? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © boule1301 – Fotolia.com

September 2014 News Round Up (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Correctional nurses Margaret Collatt, Jeannie Chesney, and Susan Laffan, join Lorry to discuss the latest correctional health care news in this podcast.

Briefing Paper: The Dangerous Use of Solitary Confinement in the US

The ACLU recently published a briefing paper on the dangers of solitary confinement in US prisons. This has been a topic of interest for some time in corrections news as more and more evidence of the effects of long term confinement emerge. This paper reports that more than 80,000 prisoners are likely held in some form of solitary confinement, be it administrative segregation, disciplinary segregation or protective custody. Panelists discuss the variable nature of what constitutes solitary confinement and the effects as reported in the paper. Sadly, many in solitary confinement are juveniles or have severe mental illness or cognitive disabilities that led to not understanding or following prison rules. The effects of confinement can’t be helping them. What can correctional nurses do about solitary confinement practices is also discussed.

Excited Delirium and the Dual Response: Preventing In-Custody Deaths

Excited delirium is the topic discussed in a recent issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. This poorly understood medical emergency is seen fairly frequently in the criminal justice system, particularly involving young males who have drug intoxication or mental illness. If not recognized and treated, respiratory arrest can result in death; often during a take-down situation. I’ve been involved in reviewing several correctional legal cases that involved possible excited delirium and know it can be hard to diagnose, even after the fact. It must be very difficult to recognize and manage in the midst of trying to manage a young, strong, agitated and hallucinating male. Panelists describe their experiences with this condition.

Clinic geared toward health needs of ex-offenders opens in Philly

Philadelphia has opened a city health clinic geared toward ex-offenders and people leaving jail or prison. It is a response to the need for health care for our patient population once released. Most of us know that incarceration is often the first health care experience for many of our patients and chronic diseases end up being identified and treated. Then, once released to the community, follow-up is difficult. Panelists agree that this is a good idea that will hopefully be replicated elsewhere.

Oregon prison tackles solitary confinement with Blue Room experiment

Oregon Live is reporting on the use of nature imagery as a therapy to reduce the mental health effects of solitary confinement at the Snake River Correctional Institute in Oregon. A forest ecologist from the University of Utah, Nalina Nadkarni, suggested the use of images of nature such as beaches, rain forests, and waterfalls could help reorient prisoners in isolation and decrease the mental illness, self-harm, and escalating agitation that emerges with continued isolation.

The therapy was picked up by administration at Snake River in early 2013. They used one of their recreation rooms to play nature videos and were able to convert the room for about $1500. They are seeing some positive results including some reductions in disciplinary infractions. The University of Utah hopes to research the effects of the intervention later this fall.

 

Correctional Nurse Guide to the Code of Ethics: The Nature of Health Problems

North East South West Signpost Showing Travel Or DirectionThis post is part of a continuing series applying the Code of Ethics for Nurses to correctional nursing practice. Find other posts in the series here.

Kim was not happy with her assignment in the large city jail infirmary where she worked. The patient load was manageable but she didn’t want to deal with the patient in cell B-5. Kim was a new mother with an eight month old baby girl. She had done everything right during her pregnancy; strictly following medical advice and not drinking at all. Her baby was born with a slight esophageal defect that required surgery in the early days. Although her baby was doing well, it was a continual concern for her. Now she is struggling with bad feelings toward the pregnant woman in cell B-5 who is six months pregnant and going through alcohol withdrawal while being maintained on methadone for her heroin addiction. How could this woman have so little regard for her child’s future? Kim did not know how she would be able to make it through the shift.

Code of Ethics Proposition 1: The nurse, in all professional relationships, practices with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of every individual, unrestricted by considerations of social or economic status, personal attributes, or the nature of health problems.

Kim definitely has an ethical dilemma. She cannot get past the nature of her patient’s health problem. She is unable to provide nursing care in this situation with compassion and respect for the inherent dignity, worth, and uniqueness of this patient. What are her options?

Gift Exchange

An easy option would be for Kim to broker an assignment exchange. Another nurse who is less sensitive to these concerns may be willing to care for this patient and get beyond the ethical matter. This exchange provides Kim with the gift of time to work through her ethical dilemma. Smaller facilities may not have enough staff on shift to provide this option or nursing leadership may be unwilling to juggle assignments. Best for Kim to approach a fellow staff member with the idea and then present a plan to the nurse manager for consideration. This can only be a short-term solution, though.

Shifting Perspective

Kim needs to both objectively and subjectively analyze her feelings toward this patient. It may, in fact, be true that this woman is totally disregarding the health of her unborn baby, however, providing appropriate infirmary care is reversing this disregard. Managing the withdrawal of alcohol in this situation may be of great benefit to the baby, as well as the mother. This shift in perspective may allow Kim to engage in an appropriate therapeutic nurse-patient relationship. Caring concern might be what this patient needs to make a life change. Even if this doesn’t happen, Kim’s nursing care will be of benefit to the unborn child.

Out of Body Experience

Kim does not respect or value the actions of this patient. This is true for many of our incarcerated patients. They have made poor life decisions that most nurses would disagree with. Kim is able to overlook this when dealing with other patients. Why is this one a problem? This is the heart of the ethical issue that Kim must struggle through. This patient’s decisions hit close to home as Kim has a young child and is sensitive to how the life choices of this patient are affecting her unborn child. Kim may benefit from considering the situation from a third-party perspective. This practice (sometimes called bracketing) involves consciously setting aside personal feelings or biases in a situation. No doubt, if she has strong feelings about this patient’s seeming disregard for her baby, bracketing will be challenging.

Most important is that Kim actively engage in working through her ethical dilemma rather than respond poorly to this patient or deny that she is having difficulty.

Have you struggled with a similar situation in providing correctional nursing care? Share your thoughts in the comment section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Stuart Miles – Fotolia.com

Four Sources of Fast Correctional Nursing CE for Recertification or Relicensure

Stack of papers and clock isolated on whiteDoes this sound familiar? Notice arrives that your CCHP or CCHP-RN certification or your nursing license is due next month. Plenty of time to get the required continuing education (CE), right? The notice is set aside (if you are like me it gets printed and set on the pile on the right side of my desk) and the next time the paper shows up, submission is due tomorrow. Not that this has ever happened to me (well, alright, it did happen just last month….). So, just in case this might happen to you (I’m sure it won’t, but just in case) here is my list of four quick sources of correctional nursing continuing education that you can access online and complete immediately. First, though, is a clarification of requirements:

License Renewal

States vary as to the number of contact hours needed for a 2 year licensure period. Most states ask the licensee to maintain the official documentation (CE certificates) and attest to having completed the required number of hours. Documentation may be requested in a random audit of licensees. Here is a handy list of current state nursing board CE requirements for relicensure from nurse.com:

Nursing Continuing Education Requirements by State

Some states have specific content requirements as part of the total CE needed. For example, Florida RNs are required to complete 24 hours of appropriate continuing education (CE) during each renewal period, including two (2) hours relating to prevention of medical errors. In addition to these 24 hours of general CE, each RN must complete two (2) hours of domestic violence CE every third renewal for a total of 26 hours. Specific requirements are addressed by state in the link above.

CCHP and CCHP-RN Recertification

CCHP and CCHP-RN certifications have yearly CE requirements.

CCHP CE Recertification Requirements: Participation in 18 hours of continuing education (at least six of which are specific to correctional health care).

CCHP-RN Recertification Requirements: Completion of at least 18 nursing contact hours, with six specific to correctional health care.

If you have an excellent benefits package at work that includes an education allowance, try to get a National Commission on Correctional Health Care conference. You won’t regret it. However, that won’t work for a looming due date. Looming due dates require immediate results. Here are four go-to places for correctional nursing online CE.

Sources of Correctional Nursing Continuing Education

  • Pedagogy Correctional Health Care Campus: I’m a bit biased on this source since I develop the correctional healthcare specific continuing education here. The modules specific to corrections are in video format and have application checkpoints to hold your attention. Here are the ones available so far with more on the way:

o   The Correctional Health Care Patient and Environment

o   Correctional Health Care Processes

o   Safety in the Correctional Setting

o   Chronic Illness in the Correctional Setting

o   Control and Management of Infectious Diseases in the Correctional Setting

o   Legal Origins and Issues Behind Correctional Nursing

o   Psychiatric Nursing in the Correctional Setting

o   Women in Prison

  • Correctional Nurse Educator: Our friends over at Correctional Nurse Educator have some fantastic courses available, as well. Topics include Asthma, Chronic Care, Inmate Manipulation, Suicide Prevention, and much more. All are focused on correctional nursing practice.

That’s it for my quick list of correctional healthcare continuing education. Do you have a favorite online source that I missed? Share your secrets in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Elnur – Fotolia.com

Wake Up and Smell the Contraband! (podcast)

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cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400Joe Bouchard, corrections author and educator, is a librarian for the Michigan Department of Corrections.  He joins Lorry to talk about contraband and what nursing staff, particularly new staff, need to know.  Joe is well known in the corrections community as an expert on this topic. His book Wake Up and Smell the Contraband! is a popular training guide for correctional professionals.

Contraband can come in many forms:

  • Anything that is prohibited as a possession such as a cell phone.
  • Authorized property that is excessive such as 50 rolls of toilet paper acquired for barter.
  • Something that is acceptable but the possession of another such as another inmate’s CD player.
  • Anything altered for another unsafe use such as a shank created from plastic cutlery.

Items can become contraband in a prison if altered for inappropriate use. For examples, inmates may ask for extra Band-Aids from multiple health care staff members. Once there is a stockpile, the Band-Aids are used to tape a shank under a table.

Hidden meanings and hidden symbols can also be considered contraband from a security perspective. A sleeve cut from a shirt or the way shoes are tied can be communication among prison gang members.

The most dangerous contraband these days is the cell phone. This allows communication outside the walls. They are versatile and can record activities for blackmail.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • Not following contraband policy and procedure and giving away too much without checking the policy.
  • Not understanding the need for mouth checks. Drugs are a valuable commodity on the prison underground.
  • Not keeping alert to contraband undertakings.
  • Not speaking up when staff are seen in contraband activities. Serious offenses should be reported to a supervisor. Minor offenses that may be due to lack of awareness should be addressed directly with the staff member.

Additional resource:

Misused medications in a prison