If you don’t work in corrections you might not know that there is a big difference between a jail and a prison. The type of healthcare services you provide and the patient community is varied – although there are similar components to each.
A jail is a correctional facility usually operated by the local city or county government and holds an arrestee awaiting trial and sentencing. The patient community include a large percentage withdrawing from a variety of substances and may have acute conditions related to the circumstances of their arrest. Some large urban areas regularly perform ‘sweeps’ of the neighborhoods, clearing the streets of vagrants and homeless. A health assessment is performed on all individuals booked into the jail setting. Assessments are usually performed by a nurse or nurse practitioner.
A prison, on the other hand, is a correctional facility operated by the state or federal government for those who have been tried and sentenced. Prisons have a range of security levels depending on the type of sentence of the inmate, usually based on degree of potential for violence. Leveling ranges from minimum to medium to maximum security (where death row and highly volatile/violent inmates are housed). By the time an inmate reaches the prison setting substance detoxification has taken place and acute conditions stabilized. Prison nursing usually involves management of chronic conditions and ambulatory care.
Which type of nursing would appeal to you?
Nurses who end up enjoying the jail environment like a fast-paced constantly changing situation. These are usually the same nurses who thrive in an urban emergency room as there are similarities in the type of conditions encountered. Jail nursing can involve interesting assessment situations and a good bit of trauma evaluation. Major conditions addressed include substance withdrawal, contagious disease, and suicide prevention.
The prison environment has more opportunity for planning and scheduling as the inmate community will be around longer, generating the ability to develop a therapeutic relationship. There is greater involvement in medication management, patient education, and diagnostics. Nurses who value a long term relationship and the opportunity to improve health outcomes over time tend to prefer prison nursing as a correctional specialty.