Interestingly, most Correctional Nurses I meet share that they started in Correctional Nursing quite by accident, but those that have stayed report that it was the best “accident” that ever happened to them! I have also encountered many nurses who have never considered working in a jail or prison, and I always make it a point to include education about Correctional Nursing for all of my students . Below find the most frequently asked questions I hear, and my responses.
Isn’t it unsafe to work in a jail or prison?
It is true that safety is a major concern in our environment. However, many precautions are taken to allow a safe work environment, including the presence of custody officers in the care area. I often compare our patient population to that of an urban emergency room. In some ways, a correctional nurse is in a safer situation because the incarcerated person is clearly identified and everyone in general is on alert in the environment. This is not necessarily the case in the greater community setting. During the orientation period, most agencies provide intensive safety training to healthcare professionals. When interviewing for a position in corrections, ask questions about the safety measures in place at the facility
Isn’t healthcare in prisons and jails substandard?
Since the ’70s, correctional healthcare has been held to the standards of the community. Case law and advocacy groups have established a body of work which has led to improvement in medical and mental health care for the incarcerated. When considering a position at a facility, ask about accreditation. The two main accrediting organizations are the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the American Correctional Association. These two organizations operate similarly to the Joint Commission (JCAHO) in that they conduct an independent evaluation of the care provided and the operational systems in place to determine if quality standards are being met.
Won’t I be working with poor practitioners – nurses and doctors who can’t get a job anywhere else?
Nurses and providers come to the correctional environment for many reasons. Many have a true desire to help the underserved in our society. Some see it as a calling as well as a job. There are many truly dedicated practitioners working in jails and prisons, often in very challenging situations. Licensure, peer review, competency evaluation and credentialing are all standard requirements for practice, just as in the greater community. In addition, The American Nurses Association has recognized Correctional Nursing as a specialty for many years, and the foundation for Correctional Nursing practice is The Correctional Nurse: Scope and Standards of Practice, most recently published in 2020.
Won’t I put my family in danger with all the diseases incarcerated Persons carry?
This is a surprising question to me, but I have heard it enough to know it is a concern. Due to the high level of drug and alcohol use among those coming into the jail environment, personal hygiene is often poor. In addition, addictions and lifestyle choices lead to increased levels of Hepatitis B & C, HIV, and tuberculosis in this population. Nurses working in corrections, however, have all of the protections of standard precautions and vaccinations as do those in other settings. Nurses in the corrections environment must be ever alert to disease transmission and must carefully adhere to good infection control practices.
Why would I want to make a career of correctional nursing?
Correctional nursing is a specialty practice area with its own distinct body of knowledge and specialized patient population. Although not the only nursing job to provide satisfaction, Correctional Nurses have the opportunity to truly impact people’s health and future. Unlike our colleagues in other settings, we have the ability to monitor our patients as often as we want, or as often as their condition requires; thus ensuring that they are receiving the necessary care. Patient education is a gift we give to our patients, and for some, it is life-changing.
Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?
Please share any other questions or comments you have about Correctional Nursing practice in the comment section.