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Correctional Nursing

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Specializes in Education, FP, LNC, Forensics, ED, OB. Has 30 years experience.

What is a Correctional nurse?

The Correctional Nurse wears many faces. They are primary care nurses, security nurses and in some correctional facilities, the nurse dealing with those who are critically ill. It takes a special type of individual to take on these tasks without prejudice, remain impartial, and treat the inmate humanely. This type of Forensic nursing is not for everyone for the Nurse must keep their personal feelings at home. They must not cross boundaries (ethically) and must ensure that the inmate gets the best possible nursing care available.

Correctional Nursing

Overview

Correctional Nursing is a sub-specialty of Forensic Nursing.

The Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN), Registered Nurse (RN), and/or the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who selects Correctional Nursing are all stepping into the very young world of Forensic Nursing.

In many facilities, Correctional Nurses face many obstacles as they try to render the best possible care they can. Often, they are working in dangerous situations with limited resources. These nurses must maintain astute abilities to remain sharp and fearless. They must stay abreast of the latest evidence-based medical care available.

Correctional Nursing Health Care Issues (not all-inclusive)

  • HIV
  • Hepatitis
  • Cardiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sexual assault
  • TB
  • Mental health issues/illness
  • Opioid addiction
  • Juvenile health issues
  • Injuries from trauma

The nurse must, as stated, remain sharp and be able to recognize a true medical issue as opposed to the inmate who is malingering in order to get attention and manipulate the situation in an attempt to fake a medical condition.  The nurse must be able to differentiate among presentations to make very quick decisions about what is occurring. Of course, the nurse has protocols to follow and at the same time, must rely on his/her diagnostic abilities.

Many nurses may feel used and manipulated as Correctional Nurses and some do not get the proper recognition they deserve as excellent Nurses who have the astute ability to handle this type of patient.

Many LPNs (and RNs, but especially the former) who work in a Correctional Facility often feel like they would not be able to secure another position in any other entity; hospitals, clinics, etc. To the contrary, the Nurse who works as a Correctional Nurse is valuable in other areas of nursing and possesses astute diagnostic skills. These Nurses should have no difficulty securing a position outside the Correctional Facility; their resumes/CVs should cover exactly the role they played, their detailed job description, etc.

It takes a very special person to render care to the correctional inmate. A person who is kind, compassionate, fearless, and stays abreast of all the policies and procedures of the facility as well as how to apply Standard of Care (SOC) and evidence-based medicine.

How Do You Become a Correctional Nurse?

  • Graduate from accredited Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN) nursing program
    • LPN/LVN
      • Certificate, diploma, or degree
    • RN
      • Diploma, ADN, BSN, or higher
    • NP (or other APRN)
      • MSN or higher
  • Successfully pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN
  • Possess current unencumbered RN or LPN/LVN license in U.S. state of practice

What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Correctional Nurse?

The National Commission on Correctional Healthcare (NCCHC) offers the Certified Correctional Health Professional-RN (CCHP-RN) certification for the Registered Nurse.

Eligibility (not all-inclusive)

  • Current CCHP certification
  • Graduate from accredited RN nursing program
  • Successfully pass NCLEX-RN
  • Possess current, unencumbered RN license in U.S. state (and U.S. territories) of practice
  • Two years (full-time) RN experience
  • 2,000 practice hours in correctional setting within last three years
  • 54 hours of continuing education in nursing (18 hours specific to correctional health care) within the last three years

Salary (2020)

$61,740 avg (Registered Nurse )

$47,363 avg (Licensed Practical Nurse )

$81,433 avg (for all 'nurses')

Hiring preferences and salaries vary by location. You can find U.S. salaries by location at indeed.com.

Resources

The following sites provide additional information and details about the Correctional Nursing specialty area to see if this might be something of interest. 

Choosing a Specialty but not sure which one is best for you?
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sirI is an OB-GYN NP-BC, (Emeritus), FNP-BC, and Legal Nurse Consultant. Specialty areas include OB-GYN, trauma, med-legal consulting, forensics, and education.

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13 Comment(s)

riverotter

Specializes in Corrections. Has 23 years experience.

We're so desperate in NY that we take new grads and give them one year of good orientation.  The pay is not the best but it's OK. I'll soon have my 20 in and retire with a pension. That is priceless. I also do love correctional nursing for many reasons, it's different than anything else I've ever done in my life. It can be a challenge sometimes, but what specialty isn't ? I like to tell people, most of the time correctional nursing is low-key, but when things happen, they are always interesting!

sirI, MSN, APRN, NP

Specializes in Education, FP, LNC, Forensics, ED, OB. Has 30 years experience.

Thank you for your feedback, @riverotter. Congratulations on 20 years!

QuePasaArrozConPasasRN, ASN

Specializes in Correctional; Psych Nursing. Has 3 years experience.

I started as a new grad RN in a county correctional facility.  When I let some of my family members, instructors, and classmates know my plans, I often received odd looks. Although I have never been to jail myself, I have family members who have and lived in communities where specific populations are overly represented within these settings due to many social disparities and other factors.  This vulnerable population is often overlooked, and for many, this is the only place they will receive medical treatment. 

Correctional medical staff sees lots of interesting medical and psychiatric conditions, and I enjoyed the variety.  It is fascinating, and you need to hone your assessment skills so you are not manipulated; this is very important.  We are continually assessing for our own safety and the inmates' safety.  The risk for suicide is exceptionally high inside correctional facilities, and medical and psychiatric staff need to work together to reduce these risks and treat acute psych issues. 

Another competent is working with correctional officers, which can be complicated at times.  They are the gatekeepers to seeing your patient.  I learned how to advocate for my patients effectively despite getting pushback from staff sometimes, but not always.  We often need to mitigate risk for these facilities, and so they are usually supportive for the most part.  One might encounter a few bad apples, which may make your job harder and not see eye-to-eye with your role inside these facilities, but you are there to do your job and provide healthcare to this population.

Unfortunately, I have found this position is not really respected and that it is often not seen as glamorous a position, like in a hospital.  We really don't get all the necessities sometimes of other types of facilities, but you learn how to make do with what you have on hand.  It takes a particular person to work inside correctional facilities with people from many different walks of life and treat a gambit of conditions.  One needs to develop "thick skin," be non-judgemental, open-minded, and remain professional in your role as a healthcare worker.   

ppfd, BSN, EMT-P

Specializes in ED, Critical Care. Has 12 years experience.

Started working in my states only women's prison. 

To go from working one of the states busiest ED's to the prison was a huge shift. As an RN, I do almost nothing. LPN's pass meds, techs handle most everything else. I scan papers and put in "sick calls", make rounds and listen to the same nonsense as in an ED. 

While the money is great, most I've made so far. I don't know how much longer I will do this, no more than a year I'd say. To go from using my hands and brain to office work more or less, not really what I want to be doing. 

riverotter

Specializes in Corrections. Has 23 years experience.

Wow,  QuePasa, Great description though.  PPFD- it's a lot more hands on for nurses in NYS, I think.

I highly recommend Correctional nursing . I am also a Nurse Administrator now. Any new grad nurses or NYS nurses looking for work, I would love to answer any NYS correctionsquestions and steer you into/ through the hiring process!

As far as being respected, I love to tell people where I work. They think I"m so cool and brave, even though I have COs all over and I feel safer than in a regular ED!

MelodyNelson, LVN

Specializes in corrections. Has 13 years experience.

I have been an LVN in corrections for over 10 years, 11, next month actually!   I LOVE it!  I would never want to do any other kind of nursing!   The pay is excellent, the benefits are superior to any other job around here.   It is a dynamic environment that requires a lot of FAST critical thinking.   We have trauma (at least a couple of times a week in my yard), stabbing, occasional gun shot wounds, seizures, overdoses, infected heroin infected sites, hangings, foreign bodies in people’s colons,  infected tattooed, marbles in the penis, you name it!  We got it!    I  feel very safe in my maximum security prison, the officers are top notch, the inmates are for the most part respectful, and everything runs like a well oiled machine.     As a charge nurse in a nursing home and former CNA, I was physically assaulted multiple times, sexually harassed by residents on multiple occasions,  chocked, punched and almost stabbed by a crazy old lady whose daughter thought it would be a great idea to give her mom a huge super pointy pair of scissor because “mom loves to sew”.   Talking about that, NOT dealing with the families of my patients its worth the world’s weight in gold to me!   I cannot even begin to imagine why an LVN would want to work in any other setting.   This type of nursing is definitely not for everyone, but if you are the kind of person that has strong personal and professional boundaries, likes to make money (my first two years, I made over $100,000 each year, and was able to buy and pay off my house), wants to retire one day, and you can sift through the *** manipulative tactics of the inmates, while keeping a fair and consistent attitude, please come on in and welcome to the dark side.   

QuePasaArrozConPasasRN, ASN

Specializes in Correctional; Psych Nursing. Has 3 years experience.

@riverotter. Thank you, I just noticed some of my typos... 😬  oops.  I loved it, too, and hope to return in the future as a provider.  There is a huge misconception regarding safety.  I had a hard time adjusting to working in a community clinic and the field without any backup 🤣 when patient encounters became intense.  Medical staff is never alone in there, and safety is paramount.      

Orca, ASN, RN

Specializes in Corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC. Has 26 years experience.

You do not have to be CCHP certified to be a correctional nurse, and it is not a continuing education requirement. I have been in the specialty for almost 20 years, and I have never found it to be worth the money to pursue it. I get no pay incentive for it, and my employer doesn't pay for the test. I am well past the point when I do such things for personal satisfaction.

Edited by Orca

riverotter

Specializes in Corrections. Has 23 years experience.

I did it once for kicks.... but they want you to restest every year. Forget that! I learned a lot studying for it, but no need to give them my money every year.

TheMoonisMyLantern, ADN, LPN, RN

Specializes in Mental health, substance abuse, geriatrics, PCU. Has 14 years experience.

Thanks for the article! I have been considering correctional nursing for a very long time. Everyone I know that has done it has loved it. I've worked medical, did psych, currently work geriatrics, but corrections keeps calling to me. I worry that I wouldn't be tough enough though, and that's the main reason I haven't tried it yet. But I do enjoy reading about it!

Orca, ASN, RN

Specializes in Corrections, psychiatry, rehab, LTC. Has 26 years experience.

On 2/11/2021 at 12:45 AM, TheMoonisMyLantern said:

Thanks for the article! I have been considering correctional nursing for a very long time. Everyone I know that has done it has loved it. I've worked medical, did psych, currently work geriatrics, but corrections keeps calling to me. I worry that I wouldn't be tough enough though, and that's the main reason I haven't tried it yet. But I do enjoy reading about it!

It isn't about being tough. Many of my staff are slight in stature and soft spoken. I have a mix of males and females. Your effectiveness in this specialty will be largely determined by how you conduct yourself. Treat inmates with respect, but dial down the empathy. Don't identify with them or sympathize with them. Be pleasant, but not overly friendly. Don't disclose personal information to or around inmates. Be aware of your surroundings. Follow policies and procedures, and don't take out or bring in anything for an inmate. Don't do for one what you wouldn't do for all. If a request is reasonable, grant it. If you tell an inmate that you will do something, follow through.

MelodyNelson, LVN

Specializes in corrections. Has 13 years experience.

37 minutes ago, Orca said:

It isn't about being tough. Many of my staff are slight in stature and soft spoken. I have a mix of males and females. Your effectiveness in this specialty will be largely determined by how you conduct yourself. Treat inmates with respect, but dial down the empathy. Don't identify with them or sympathize with them. Be pleasant, but not overly friendly. Don't disclose personal information to or around inmates. Be aware of your surroundings. Follow policies and procedures, and don't take out or bring in anything for an inmate. Don't do for one what you wouldn't do for all. If a request is reasonable, grant it. If you tell an inmate that you will do something, follow through.

Yes, exactly everything Orca said!