Four Ways Your Patient Can Help You Avoid A Medication Error

Four Ways Your Patient Can Help You Avoid a Medication ErrorA well-informed patient can be a great assistance in reducing medication error. The more patients understand about the medications they are taking, the better they can assist with monitoring treatment practices and questioning when unfamiliar medication is offered. Here are four ways to engage your correctional patient in the medication process to avoid error.

  1. Be Sure Your Patients Know the Important Stuff

Patients are best able to contribute to medication safety by having both general and specific knowledge of their medication program. Low general health literacy contributes to misunderstanding and gaps in patient medication. The level of understanding of the medical process, and specifically the medications ordered for treatment, affects medication adherence, whether provided by direct observation or through a self-administration process.

  • Medication allergy. General knowledge includes an understanding of any medication allergies a patient has and the symptoms they see when taking these medications. Indeed, understanding the difference between side effects and allergies are of particular importance for proper treatment. For example, a patient may state that they are allergic to aspirin when what they have experienced is stomach burning when they have taken aspirin on an empty stomach. Therefore, it is important to obtain descriptive information about medication allergies when documenting a health history.
  • Medication effect and side effect. Even when patients come into the criminal justice system on long-term chronic medications they may have misconceptions about why they are taking the medication, the expected effects of the medication on their condition, and what side effects they should be monitoring. There is even greater need for this information if new medications are added to the regimen.
  • Self-administration practices. Self-administration practices such as dosing and timing of medication self-administration can be an added challenge for patients, especially those with low literacy skills. It may take more than mere labeling instructions to be sure patients are appropriately self-administering medications allowed in the keep-on-person program. Besides basic information about medication effect, side effect, dosing, and timing, patients should be able to identify an interactions with food or other medications as well as any precautions that need to be taken such as avoiding direct sunlight or not stopping the medication abruptly. Because incarceration can restrict movement and meals, health care staff should also be sure self-administration practices are adapted to the particular situation of the patient.
  1. Give Them a Way to Communicate Directly with You

A knowledgeable patient is particularly important in a correctional setting where security barriers can cause medication delay or omission. A direct communication process between the patient and the health care staff assist in allowing patients to speak up when they have concerns about medication administration schedules. Many inmates use the sick call slip process for communication with health care staff, although other systems may need to be initiated if this is burdensome to the sick call process. For example, some settings have electronic communication through a kiosk system and others have a phone message system for inmate/health care communication.

  1. Help Them Understand Their Role

Incarcerated patients may need to be directly told to speak up about their medical condition and to question medication administration that does not fit with their understanding of their medical treatment. The power-over structures within a correctional setting does not encourage proactivity or self-efficacy in the patient population. Health care staff need to encourage and support patient participation in the care plan, including actively addressing unfamiliar medication administration.  Staff administering medications must be willing to explain any changes in the regimen. Here are a few common times when medications may be unfamiliar to a patient.

  • New patients may have medications switched from non-formulary brands to generic equivalents on intake into the facility.
  • Patients may not understand the information provided by a prescriber regarding a dosage change.
  • A new medication formulation including a change in size or color of the pill may be used while patient-specific medication is shipped from the pharmacy.
  1. Create a Solid Medication Self-Administration System

Involving the patient in administering their own medications can improve patient safety and assist with developing independent health habits. As identified earlier, patient education on drug and food interactions is important; so is information about medication effects and side effects. Confirm that the patient understands what situations require medical attention and the process for obtaining more medication when the supply is dwindling. Here are some tips for a safe and effective keep-on-person (KOP) medication program.

  • Establish a system for distributing and reordering KOP medications. Be sure patients understand the system and their responsibilities. Many medical units ask that patients show up at a treatment or pill line to reorder medications when there are about 10 doses left. This allows time for order filling.
  • Incorporate KOP medication into the Medication Administration Record (MAR) process. All medications provided to the patient should be documented in a single place to assist in communication among care providers and decrease confusion in the treatment plan.
  • Be sure every medication card has the patient’s name and ID, as well as medication and prescription information. During cell sweeps, medications will be confiscated if not in the possession of the person whose name is on the card.
  • If providers give out medications during medical sick call, sometimes called ‘Provider Packs’, the medication cards should have the inmate’s name and ID written on them by the provider along with date and signature.
  • In like fashion, over-the-counter medication distributed by nurses during sick call should be labeled for the individual inmate with date and nurse signature.
  • Security staff should be able to confirm the rightful owner of any medication found in the general prison population.
  • A regular spot-check process for patient compliance with KOP medications is helpful. Randomly check KOP cards in mid-cycle to determine proper use. For example, twice a week, a number of inmates with KOP medications could be called to report to the medical unit with all KOP cards. Nurses can use this time to validate proper use and reinforce patient teaching.

How do you involve your patients in monitoring their medications? Share your tips in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Vera Kuttelvaserova

Struggling to Define Caring in Correctional Nursing

rock climbingCorrectional nurses face a daily struggle to care for their patients while delivering much-needed healthcare in a restricted environment where they may also fear for their own personal safety. How can nurses truly care for and care about their inmate patient population? This is a question many of us in the specialty grapple with as we try to elevate the professional status of correctional nursing. Caring has been described as the essence of professional nursing practice, therefore we must establish the characteristics of this concept as it is enacted in the criminal justice system.

Weiskopf studied nurses’ experience of caring for inmate patients and discovered a number of limitations in our setting .  Nurses in this study described the need to negotiate boundaries between the culture of caring and the culture of custody to establish relationship with custody staff in order to be effective. One surprising finding of the study was the extent to which the negative attitudes and behaviors of other nursing staff affected nurses who were attempting to provide compassionate nursing care.

Many nurses working behind bars feel an obligation to care and often struggle to find ways to do this in a hostile environment. Yet, developing a structure and process for caring may be the core defining characteristic of our specialty. Here are some suggested ways nurses enact caring behaviors in corrections:

  • Educating patients about their health conditions and self-care principles
  • Maintaining a nurse-patient relationship that is within the helpful zone of professional boundaries
  • Advocating for the health care needs of a patient when necessary
  • Showing compassion and respect
  • Presenting a non-judgmental manner
  • Listening to what the patient is saying
  • Helping patients through a difficult situation

Correctional nurses are confronted daily with a struggle against a tidal wave of organizational culture convinced that we should not be caring ‘too much’ for our patients. Caring for murderers, rapists, and criminals takes true grit and a more serious definition than a superficial application of a warm positive emotional response or empathetic word. We are the ‘Tough Love’ folks on the nursing caring continuum.

Consider these unusual ways that a correctional nurses cares for patients:

  • Not accepting a gift from a patient
  • Letting a patient know that you know the rules and they should not ask you to violate them
  • Asking the patient to complete a sick call request for their rash that they want treated during pill line
  • Being diligent with mouth checks during pill line

All of the examples above constitute an action or activity that is helpful for the patient; whether it avoids penalties, provides boundaries, or prevents self-harm. Caring seeks the best for the other in any situation.

Have you found it difficult to care for patients in the criminal justice system? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Photo Credit: © Alexander Zhiltsov –

The foundation of this post originally appeared in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog

Patient Identification: Is the Right Patient Getting That Medication?

gloved hand holding plastic cup with pillsRecently I reviewed the medication administration practices at a small city jail. The nurse had been there many years and was able to complete the delivery of medication on 3 floors of inmate cells very quickly. In the unit common area she called out the names of the inmates. Inmates would present themselves and a soufflé cup of pills was poured into their open hand.  This was happening so quickly that I could not always see whether the inmate was tossing the medication into his mouth or his pocket. Neither nurse nor officer did an oral check. No inmate had a wrist band or other identification.

Can you name all the safety issues of concern in the described process? I hope that patient identification was high on your list of concerns along with medication diversion and hoarding risk…..but I’ll leave those last two for another discussion. “Wrong Patient” medication and treatment errors are frequent in health care delivery. They are a top concern for The Joint Commission (TJC) and are high on their list of National Patient Safety Goals again this year.

Times of particular concern for “Wrong Patient” errors are during medication administration, blood draws, blood transfusions, and surgical procedures. For the correctional setting, medication administration and blood draws would be most common.

Improve patient safety by applying these TJC recommendations:

  • Two methods of identification: Two forms of patient identification in corrections may include verbal name check (first and last) and inmate ID#. Photo ID cards or wristbands are ideal. Some computerized systems are able to access digital photos.
  • Involve the patient: Patients should know their meds and ordered lab tests. If there is a question about a medication or test, double-check the order. Patients can often help avoid an error.
  • Label in front of the patient: Label lab tubes in the presence of the patient. This can help avoid tube mix-up.
  • Include patient identification in orientation and training: Don’t leave patient identification processes to chance. Be sure all staff follow safety processes by learning them at orientation and through reinforcement during management rounds.

I shared my concerns with health care administration that day at the city jail described above and made recommendations for how they could improve their medication administration process to include 2 forms of patient identification.

What is your process for patient identification in medication administration at your facility? Share your procedure in the comments section of this post.

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This post originally appeared in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog.

Multi-Dose Vials: Risk and Reality in Corrections

Syringe and vialsCheri was delighted to land her first nursing job in the county detention center close to home. She was an LPN and the only nurse on night shift for an average population of 300 mostly-male inmates. The night shift nurse gives the morning insulin for any diabetic inmates at 5am just prior to breakfast. This is always a time-pressed situation. The line officer is eager to get to shift report and the inmates don’t want to miss the best selections in the chow line. Cheri hadn’t much experience with drawing insulin from vials as her school clinicals were in LTC facilities and they used insulin pens. The new patient in the line had an order for both Regular and NPH insulin that required mixing. She picked up the Regular insulin and noted that the label indicated U-100. She interpreted that to mean there were 100 units of Regular insulin in the small vial and began to draw up the patient’s dose…..

If you are a long-time nurse, especially in the correctional setting, you may be surprised to learn that drawing up insulin from multi-dose vials and mixing insulins in a single syringe are no longer as common a practice in traditional health care settings. Individual insulin pens and premixed pre-measured syringes have frequently replaced nurse calculations in administering insulin for diabetic management. Nurses new to our specialty may have little experience with what we consider a common practice. Fewer safeguards and, often, minimal oversight of staff practices can lead to a variety of clinical errors.

The Institute for Safe Medical Practices (ISMP) reviewed errors in using insulin vials. They fell into the following categories. Consider your own setting and multi-dose vial practices and evaluate how many risks are currently present:

  • Dosing errors: In the example above, Cheryl assumed that U-100 was the total number of units in the 3ml insulin vial. This can happen when staff are not familiar with insulin characteristics and standard concentrations. Dosing errors can also result from using a syringe labeled in ml rather than units (mixing insulin syringes with parenteral syringes).
  • Look-alike vials: Vials of different medications can appear similar-especially if the nurse is distracted or time-pressured, as Cheryl was.
  • Unlabeled syringes: In some settings nurses may draw up medication in syringes prior to direct administration. If syringes are not labeled, a mix-up can result in medication given to the wrong patient.
  • Beyond expiration: If expiration dates are not written on an opened multi-use vial once it is punctured it may be used when it is no longer safe or potent.
  • Cross-contamination: Because a vial can be accessed by multiple practitioners for many different patients over several weeks, there is great chance for contamination. This is more common that you might think. One study found that 25% of practitioners have re-entered a vial with a contaminated needle. Recent news from the Arizona and Connecticut show that this continues to be an issue in the correctional setting.

Multi-dose vials, in general, are a source of considerable medication error. The most common uses for multi-dose vials in the correctional setting are insulin, PPD solution, and vaccine. Here are some standard protocols for multi-dose vial use in any setting:

  • NEVER reinsert a used needle into a multi-dose vial.
  • Whenever possible, have a separate vial for each patient. Clearly label with the patient name and organize vial storage to maximize easy identification.
  • Medication in vials are good for 28 days and should be labeled with the expiration date once opened for use (unless the manufacturer information specifically states otherwise).
  • Cleanse the access diaphragm of multidose vials with 70% alcohol before inserting a device into the vial.
  • Discard multi-dose vials if sterility is compromised.
  • Many medications provided in multi-dose vials also need refrigeration. Be sure that the medication refrigerator is kept at the proper temperature. “Vaccine clinics” can be of particular concern as vials may be removed from refrigeration for extended periods of time which can jeopardize the integrity of the vaccines.
  • Follow facility regulations regarding sharp movement, if a pre drawn syringe, and multi-dose vials are used, they should be transported in a locked container with access to a disposal system at the point of administration.

Unfortunately, safeguards were missing in Cheri’s insulin administration situation. Although her new patient received an overdose of insulin, he recovered from a significant hypoglycemic event with quick treatment and a day of evaluation in the infirmary. Could this situation happen in your facility?

Share your thoughts on the dangers of insulin administration from multi-dose vials in the comments section of this post.

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Summer Fun: Top 5 Reasons You Know You Are A Correctional Nurse

two little girls  sitting in the carHope you are including some fun in your summer. Correctional nursing is stressful. Relaxation, humor, and entertainment go a long way to keeping us sane in our crazy world. Nurses have a wild sense of humor, probably generated from a need to break the intensity of our work helping those who are suffering. It can sometimes be misinterpreted by outsiders as being unkind or unfeeling, that is true. With that in mind, I wanted to take the idea of the “You Know You Are….” List and clean it up a bit for public consumption. There are a couple lists making the rounds for correctional nurses – here is one from a ways back on Scrubs Magazine and a recent one that was published on CorrectionsOne. With a hat-tip to these lists and my own good-natured spin, here is my list of reasons you know you are a correctional nurse. In true Letterman fashion, I have listed them in a countdown:

You Know You Are A Correctional Nurse because

#5 – Your Patients are the Ones in Color-Coded Uniforms

When I started as a nurse in the 1980’s it was fashionable in hospitals to have the staff where scrubs based on the unit they were working in. I was in Telemetry/Critical Care and we all wore tan and peach scrubs and lab coats. I guess that was supposed to be soothing. In corrections, our patients are the ones whering designated colors and staff members are more likely to get a list of colors they are not to wear. This might be, for example, khaki or denim.

#4 – Your Patients Make Up Reasons to See You and Don’t Want to Leave

When I worked in the hospital we had many an AMA Discharge (against medical advice). Even patients interested in the treatment plan were eager to depart the unit and move on with their lives. Correctional patients, however, often see the medical unit as a safe refuge or entertaining diversion. This can mean increased requests and access.

#3 – Shift Count includes Every Sharp Item in the Unit

I cringe when I think about some of my past practices with sharps in a community hospital setting. Things are probably tighter now, but leaving needles and syringes lying about was not of great concern in years past in my ‘free world’ practice settings. You can know you are a correctional nurse if you are acutely aware of the location of every sharp item in your work area. It is important to your own safety and the safety of your colleagues and patients.

#2 – You Get a Police Escort When Making ‘House’ Calls

Having officer colleagues is one of my favorite advantages of being a correctional nurse. Many of my emergency nurse colleagues wish they had more security in their world; especially in major urban settings. Our custody peers watch out for our safety and provide an escort when we are working in the housing area or making segregation rounds.

#1 – When You Look at a Patient Who has Done Cruel and Violent Things, You See a Human Being in Need of Nursing Care

Yes, this is the number one way you know you are truly a correctional nurse. We don’t have the luxury, as in some other nursing settings, to be unaware of the character or background of our patients. If you are working in a supermax setting, for example, you can try to ignore it, but your patients have a violent background. Gaining the ability to look past that and see the inner patient in need of your professional service – that is when you truly know you are a correctional nurse!

Christmas in July  – Add to My List and Grab a Correctional Nurse.Net Coaster

Just to increase the summer fun, I will be sending a CorrectionalNurse.Net Coaster to the first 10 readers who add to my list of 5 reasons. Keep it clean, now!

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Three Ways to Use Inmate Grievances to Improve Health Care

Frau mit DosentelefonInmate grievances are a standard mechanism for prisoners to request changes and express discontent with a variety of conditions of confinement such as housing, officer treatment, and inadequate medical care.  Although many in correctional health care see the grievance process as a tedious necessity, inmate medical grievances can be a rich source of information for uncovering system flaws. This patient feedback can actually help improve the quality of your patient outcomes, reduce clinical error, and avoid legal liability. Here are three important ways to use inmate grievances to help provide quality correctional health care.

Fix System Problems

“Last month Doc said I was going for tests about my liver. I haven’t seen my name on the call out list yet. Please help!”

Grievances can sometime unearth major system troubles. A common area of weak systems is the process for outside diagnostic testing. No doubt about it, there is no easy way to get our patients scheduled for a liver biopsy, coordinate officer transport, and the various other arrangements necessary for a successful procedure. The investigation of this grievance revealed that several patient tests had dropped off the log during an extended family leave for the medical unit clerk. Staff turnover can lead to system issues if there are no cross-trained staff to keep processes going. This issue was revealed and resolved through an inmate grievance.

Resolve Staff Issues

“I keep turning in sick call slips but no one will see me in medical. I need some attention right now!”

Sometimes inmate grievances are the result of unreasonable expectations and, after investigation, result in educating the patient about the process of requesting and receiving health care. This request, however, resulted in the discovery that the evening shift nurse, whose post duties included rounding to collect sick call slips, was discarding some slips that she determined were unnecessary to process. Resolving the cause of this grievance may have prevented future patient harm by identifying poor staff behaviors. The immediate result of the investigation was termination of the staff member.

Correct Communication Concerns

“My toe is swollen and infected. I was told I would get better shoes months ago. No one is listening to me.”

This older diabetic inmate rightly needed special foot wear and the state prison system he was in had a good process set up for providing them when necessary. However, the communication between medical and procurement in this particular prison was faulty. Good investigation of this medical grievance revealed the disconnect and initiated a change in communication among facility departments that resulted in faster procurement of medically necessary items such as these shoes.

It can be easy to become tone-deaf to complaints of our patients generated through the inmate grievance process. This is a mistake. Granted, some complaints may be unfounded, but all complaints deserve to be investigated.

To use inmate grievances effectively, a system is needed for investigating grievances, answering them, and tabulating any trends. Here are some tips for a smooth-running grievance process:

  • Have a designated individual handle all medical grievances. If you are a one-person department, that would be you; however, if more options are available, pick someone who has a genuine interest in patient satisfaction or quality improvement. A single communication point for grievances means relationships can be built among those in the facility most likely to be regularly handling inmate complaints; thus speeding results. This also provides a consistent contact point when addressing issues with the patient population.
  • Make sure your system is set up to address grievances promptly. Consider grievances like sick call request and turn around a first response in 48-72 hours. A complicated issue may take more time to resolve but you patients should to know they are being heard and that the wheels are in motion.
  • Categorize grievances related to common quality issues once an investigation of the situation indicates a primary cause. Here are some suggested categories:

o   Capacity Issues: Staffing/Supplies

o   Communication

o   Patient Information/Understanding

o   Staff Issues: Knowledge, Accountability, Skill

o   System/Process Issues

  • Tabulate grievance themes in your quality improvement program and investigate trending issues with a formal process or outcome study. Once a trend is seen, a quality improvement study will validate a quality problem and provide baseline data for tracking the outcome of system changes.

Inmate grievances can be a useful source of information about your clinical program. How are you using inmate grievances? Share your experiences in the comments section of this post.

PS – You still have time to get a free downloadable copy of my new ebook – The Correctional Nurse Manifesto – by signing up for my email list. Use this link Hurry! Offer ends July 5!

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Five Mistakes New Correctional Nurses Make

Mujer  arrepentida equivocada cubriendo sus ojos.I’ve worked with a lot of new correctional nurses over the years; many of them succeeded and embraced the unique nature of our specialty. Some, however, quickly abandoned their positions even before they gave themselves time to adjust to their new role. Sometimes it is just not a good fit. For example, some nurses just can’t bear to hear the bars click shut behind them when they enter the sally port after security clearance. However, many times nurses make preventable mistakes that land them in trouble on the ‘inside’. Based on my experiences, here is a list of common mistakes nurses can make in their first correctional position.

Not paying attention to security procedure

Many seasoned correctional nurses will tell you that working behind bars is one of the safest jobs around. In fact, correctional nurses have more security presence than most emergency rooms or mental health units in traditional settings. That being said, nurses must know the security procedures and follow them. For example, nurses need to know where officers are located and how to activate the alarm system. We also need to let others know where we are headed and when we expect to return when moving within the various facility areas. And, whenever possible, travel with someone else. Nurses who don’t pay attention to security procedure can find themselves vulnerable to injury or assault.

Disrespecting correctional officers

Correctional officers are professionals, too, and deserve civil and respectful treatment. Nurses who are arrogant or act superior to their correctional colleagues don’t last in the specialty. We may come from different worldviews and we may have differing opinions, but both professions have a vital role in the facility. The happiest correctional nurses are those who build collegial relationships with the officers with whom they work.

Not treating the inmates like patients

Some nurses enter the correctional setting and find affinity with the officer role, even identifying with it. These nurses easily absorb the jail culture and abandon their nursing perspective. In a poor environment, this can easily degenerate into a cynical and punitive attitude toward the patient population. Research into correctional nurse working styles identified four types:

  • Idealist: Nursing perspective is a primary consideration and does not understand the security perspective
  • Realist: Respects the security perspective while continuing to function from a nursing perspective
  • Situationalist: Alternates between a security orientation and a nursing perspective depending on the situation
  • Acceptor: Identification with the security perspective with no application of nursing perspective while in the correctional setting

By focusing on becoming a realist, new correctional nurses can successfully navigate in the criminal justice system while providing substantive nursing care to their patients.

Treating the inmates like patients in other settings

This one sounds contradictory of the previous mistake but hear me out. While we must treat inmates like patients, nurses make mistakes when they treat incarcerated patients like they might a frail elderly hospitalized patient. What I mean is that the common signs of compassion and care provided in a traditional setting such as a shoulder squeeze or other touch can be misinterpreted in the correctional setting. Successful correctional nurses find other avenues to show care or concern.

Leaving the nursing license at the door

I know it can be hard to believe but I have seen this more than once. Nurses start working in a correctional facility and fall into practices that are definitely unsupportable to a licensing board. These practices can be as mundane as poor or missing documentation. They can also be as egregious as participating in a use of force against an inmate. A nursing license governs every employment setting, no matter how untraditional it might be.  New correctional nurses are successful when they practice within their licensure requirements when ‘behind the wall’.

Do any of these sound familiar? What advice do you give new correctional nurses? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

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Scope and Standards: Care Settings

This post is part of an ongoing series discussing key components of the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standard of Practice, 2nd Ed. Review prior posts in this series here. Purchase your own copy of this highly recommended book through Amazon (affiliate link).

Prison interiorThe other day I was trying to explain correctional healthcare to an attorney who was considering taking on a case involving care in a county prison. I was familiar with the facility and told her that although the facility’s name used the word prison, it was really a jail. Thus began an extended conversation about the differences between a prison and a jail and why that might matter to the case and the clinical experts she would want to engage. One of the challenges of correctional nursing advancement is the great diversity of practice settings in which we work.

In an earlier post I discussed the definition of correction nursing, which encompasses the ANA definition of professional nursing tempered by the particular location of the criminal justice system. This location defines our practice being framed by our patient population (discussed here) and our care setting. The care setting is a unique component of correctional nursing and part of our scope of practice.

Where in the Pipeline

Our care location is first defined by where our patients are in the criminal justice process. The two primary areas are jails and prisons but I have also been involved in nursing care consultations that involved courtroom detainment and half-way houses after release. Our correctional patients can also be found in locked hospital units and addiction treatment centers.

Jail – The majority of arrested individuals are brought to a jail. Jail detainees may be awaiting a court hearing, trial, or sentencing. Many jails also hold those sentenced to a term less than one year as transfer into the prison system would not be cost effective and 12 month or less sentences are rarely high security issues. Jail health care, especially in urban areas, involves high concern for drug and alcohol withdrawal. Jails also have higher suicide rates than prisons so this is also a top-of-mind issue in this setting. Jails have a high rate of turnover, with people coming in for short stays before being released or bonded out to await trial. Therefore, it can be difficult to keep track of your patients and manage chronic care issues or diagnostic follow-through.

Prison – Once convicted of a crime and sentenced to longer than 12 months, an inmate is transferred to prison. Depending on the type of crime, this could be a state or federal prison. Each prison system designates intake facilities that evaluate and classify inmates as to security level and, possibly,  healthcare requirements. Security classification is primarily determined by violence potential and escape risk, although some systems also house sex offenders or gang members in separate locations. Health requirements can affect classification if the system has a central hospital facility or a working prison such as a farm or industrial site. Prison health care is generally more stable than jail health care as the patient population is less transient.

Mixture – Smaller states combined the jail and prison system. Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have combined jail and prison systems where both detainees and sentenced inmates reside.

Who is in Charge?

The government entity in charge of the criminal justice setting also changes based on location within the system. For example, most jails are managed the county government, although some large urban jails are managed by city officials. Prisons are managed by the state or federal government. The chief executive of a jail may be a sheriff or a jail administrator who reports to the sheriff while the chief executive for a prison most often holds the title of warden. A jail may have deputies as officers while a prison may use the term custody officer or correctional officer (CO).

Age Matters

Offenders under the age of 18 are usually held in juvenile or youth facilities. Some youth are also held in adult facilities if they have been sentenced for an adult crime.

Picture This

Here is a graphic representation I like to use to help visually describe the primary components of the criminal justice system.

Location of Care

This is a fairly simple explanation of the criminal justice system – the setting of correctional nursing practice. After talking with the attorney, she decided she needed a jail nurse expert for her case.  Have you ever tried to describe the criminal justice system to another nurse or care provider? How do you do it? Share your tips in the comments section of this post.

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Scope and Standards: Prevalence of Correctional Nurses

foule de pélerins à lourdesBefore I accidentally became a correctional nurse, I didn’t even know the specialty existed. However, I soon learned that, although we work in a hidden practice setting, there are many correctional nurses. Unfortunately, we are almost invisible to the larger profession. Take any nursing survey that asks for your specialty area and you will see what I mean. I have never seen a place to check for correctional nursing. Most often we are filling in the open space next to ‘other’.

The taskforce revising the Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice had quite a time searching for verifiable information on the number of correctional nurses working in American jails and prisons. We finally settled on reporting numbers from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) data from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. This survey estimated a total of 20,772 registered nurses working in correctional settings. That is almost 1% of all nurses working in the US (0.08%).

To those of us active in the profession, however, this seems a low number. Could it be that more nurses work in criminal justice? The way nurses are employed to work in a correctional setting may skew survey findings. For example, correctional nurses may be employed by a university medical system (like those working in Connecticut and New Jersey prison systems. Many jails are staffed by nurses working for the public health department. Nurses may provide care to inmates but work for private companies such as those who manage dialysis units within prison systems.

Maddie LaMarre, in a chapter on nursing practice for Clinical Practice in Correctional Medicine (2006), cited an estimated 2-3% of US nurses work in corrections. With Bureau of Labor Statistics of over 2.6 million employed registered nurses in 2008, this would suggest between 52,374 and 78,561 correctional nurses. The figure does not include the many LPN/LVN nurses practicing in the specialty.

Also not reflected in the National Sample Survey are nurses who work in correctional settings in a part time or per diem capacity. Some prison settings in remote areas must rely on traveling nurses to meet healthcare needs. Many settings regularly employ agency nurses to fill gaps in the schedule.

Without a professional association specifically dedicated to correctional nursing practice, there is no reliable collection on information on the number and characteristics of correctional nurses. More the pity.  Correctional nursing might be more visible with an accurate idea of the number and strength of the specialty.

How many correctional nurses do you think there are in the country? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

The full Correctional Nursing Scope and Standards of Practice, 2nd Ed. Is available through Amazon.

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Nurse Perceptions of Correctional Health Care (podcast)


cnt-podcast_cover_art-1400x1400In this episode of Correctional Nursing Today Karen Marchand-Singleton discusses her research involving nurse perceptions of correctional healthcare. Karen performed this research as part of her master’s degree program and hopes to expand her sample in future research. Karen’s entry into correctional practice started when her son, who has hemophilia, was detained at a local jail. She had not been exposed to correctional nursing before and was unsure of the medical treatment her son would be receiving. She took a position at a nearby jail to find out and discovered she loved the specialty.

As a nurse manager at that same facility, Karen found it difficult to recruit nurses into the correctional setting. This led her to pursue this research topic to find out what the perception was of correctional nursing in the healthcare community. Her research sample was based on her South Carolina locale where she did live interviews with 20 nurses. These nurses had backgrounds in acute care, home care, hospice, and corrections. Her structured interview involved 10 questions about their understanding and exposure to correctional nursing.

Her results indicate that we have a ways to go to improve the awareness and image of correctional nursing. Few study participants had a clear understanding of the specialty and only one had been exposed to the field during initial schooling. Her findings indicate a need for more dialog in the general nursing community about correctional nursing practice. Correctional nurses need to interact with nurses outside the specialty at general conferences and become a part of the larger nursing community.

Do you think the correctional nursing specialty is invisible? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.