Correctional Nurse Interview Prep Guide – Part I

So you are thinking about correctional nursing and even have an interview set up at a local facility. How should you prepare for your interview and what questions should you ask? Of course, all the standard principles for successful interviewing apply here. Good tools for general interview preparation such as interview tips and career guides are available online.

In the specialty of corrections, however, several other things that you should keep in mind in order to prepare yourself for a productive interview.

Dress

Most correctional facilities require modest dress. Dress conservatively for your first experience inside. This means no visible cleavage, no strappy high-heeled sandals, no sleeveless tops or dresses. It is best to leave cellphones and wallets locked in your car. Bring your drivers license, keys, and any paperwork with you. You will likely go through a security process similar to airport security which may include wanding and possibly a pat down. Pat downs should only be done by a same-sex custody officer.

Facility Tour

Be sure to get a full tour of the facility including every location in which you may be working as a staff nurse. Pay attention to the number and location  of custody staff at each location. There should be an officer available at all times for security purposes. Check your own emotional response to being behind bars. It is not for everyone. Find out during your interview process if this environment will be a difficulty for you.

Correctional Officers (COs)

COs are also referred to as Custody Officers or Security Officers. Try not to refer to them as guards. This is considered a derogatory term. During your security entry take note of the diligence with which the officers perform their duties. You want to know that they follow procedure and are not lax in their position. If their focus is on chatting or other non-work activities they may be distracted from their primary role.

Questions to Ask

During the interview you will be asked for any questions you might have. Take this opportunity to find out the following:

  • Does nurse orientation include orientation to security procedures and dealing with inmates? A good orientation in corrections includes more than policy and procedure. You will want to hear that you would receive information about security procedures, how to remain safe in the facility, safety codes and rules, as well as how to deal with the inmate population.
  • Are nurses given safety alarm mechanisms? What is used in this facility? There should be a mechanism for nurses to sound an alarm if they feel they are in an unsafe situation. Generally, staff will not be out of sight and/or sound of a custody officer at any time. However, even with mirrors for ‘blind spots’ there is a small opportunity for loss of contact. A well-run facility will have a mechanism in place to alert security of an unsafe situation.
  • Is the facility accredited by NCCHC or ACA? Current accreditation with either of these independent bodies indicates that the facility meets nationally recognized quality standards. Their seal of approval is similar to a Joint Commission accreditation for hospitals. An accredited facility is more likely to have well running clinical processes and established practices.

Armed with this information you can make an informed decision about the healthcare at the facility and launching your career in correctional nursing.

Do you have other interview questions or tips for someone entering the correctional nursing field? Enter a comment below.

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  3. hi lorry, just had my interview today at a state prison.. i think i did great thanks to your site and your threads on allnurses just wondering how long does it usually take if a person gets hired? i’m assuming getting a call takes a couple weeks due to it being a state job and all. thanks 🙂

    • Good for you, Peter! I don’t know what state you applied to work. If CA, it could be a L-O-N-G time! you might want to put that question to the allnurses.com corrections group. They often have current information.

  4. Hi Lorry! I have to say, this site rocks. For the record.

    A few questions for you. I’m starting nursing school next fall, and have a large number of family and friends working in corrections. Some of them love it. Some of them hate it. The only correctional nurse I know can’t stand it though, so I’m hoping for a better outside view!

    First and foremost, do correctional facilities ever allow student nurses to come and observe? I know it probably wouldn’t be considered an actual preceptorship, and the nursing school I’m starting at has a rigorous clinical schedule already lined up with the associated hospital. I had wondered about spending 3-4 hours one or two days a week as a student nurse at a facility over the course of a semester, however. It seemed like the best way to get a feel of whether or not correctional nursing was the right choice. The prison near me allows sociology and psychology internships, I wondered if that extended to medical staff.

    Second, what areas of experience would you recommend prior to stepping into the correctional pool? I’ll have 18 months as an EMT under my belt when I graduate. The area I live in is so starved for nurses that I’ll have a wide variety of options in terms of specialties.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks for your kind words, Renee: I am glad you are finding the information on the blog helpful. You may want to check with your school about the community clinical rotation as more and more schools are including a corrections rotation option. If nothing else, you can get the ball rolling by suggesting they consider one.

      Your emergency experience will do you well in any correctional setting. In addition, you may want to focus on mental health settings and/or drug and alcohol withdrawal opportunities. The inmate population as higher rates of both.

      Best wishes on your nursing education. Keep in touch!

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