The specialty practice of correctional nursing is sometimes confused with the specialty practice of forensic nursing. This may be due, in part, to our shared community of patients. The confusion of terms could also be due to the different evolution of the terms and specialities in the US and England. Forensic Nursing in England developed as a psychiatric nursing practice specialization working with the criminally insane. The current term now used is mentally disordered offenders (MDO’s). The term ‘Forensic Unit’ is still applied to correctional facilities housing MDO’s.
The speciality practice of forensic nursing in the United States developed as forensic skills were applied to nursing practice. Forensic nurses “provide specialized care for patients who are experiencing acute and long-term health consequences associated with victimization or violence, and/or have unmet evidentiary needs relative to having been victimized or accused of victimization. In addition, forensic nurses provide consultation and testimony for civil and criminal proceedings relative to nursing practice, care given, and opinions rendered regarding findings.” (International Association of Forensic Nurses). Forensic nursing focuses in some way on the specific application of nursing practice to the crime, the criminal and/or the victim’s status.
In contrast, correctional nursing focuses on providing nursing care to incarcerated individuals within the correctional environment, without regard for the specific crimes, criminal behavior and/or victim status of the patient. The ethical duty of the correctional nurse is to provide nursing care “in a manner that preserves and protects patient autonomy, dignity and rights” (Correctional Nursing: Scope & Standards of Practice, ANA, 2020). Thus, the reason for the incarceration of the patient does not affect his/her/their access to care. Correctional nurses are patient advocates, and they work in conjunction with custody colleagues, but are not involved in the criminal justice process; while forensic nurses apply their nursing skills and principles within the criminal justice process.