What You Need to Know About Becoming a Correctional Nurse

Debra Riley


Correctional nursing is a specialized field in health care that takes place within the confines of the correctional system, including prisons and juvenile detention centers. It’s an area of nursing that requires a unique set of skills, a deep understanding of ethical practices, and the ability to provide compassionate care in challenging environments.

This path is not your traditional nursing career, as it offers an opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of a population often underrepresented and overlooked. 

Today, we will delve into the intricacies of becoming a correctional nurse, outlining the necessary education, skills, and mindset required to thrive in this demanding yet rewarding role.

Let’s get to it!

correctional nurse

Educational Requirements

To become a correctional nurse, you must first be a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). This involves obtaining a nursing degree from an accredited nursing program, passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), and maintaining your license through continual professional development. Additionally, many correctional facilities require additional training or certification specific to the field of corrections. 

These may include courses on crisis intervention, mental health management, and substance abuse treatment. It’s essential to research the requirements for your desired facility to ensure you have the necessary qualifications.

For those interested in advancing their career, a higher degree such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can provide opportunities for leadership roles and further specialization within the correctional nursing field.

Specialized Training

While general nursing skills are crucial, correctional nurses also need specialized training to handle emergencies that may arise in a correctional environment. These can include violence-related injuries, substance withdrawal, or mental health crises.

For instance, USP Lee is a federal prison in Virginia that offers a specialized training program for correctional nurses, including self-defense tactics and crisis intervention techniques. This training is crucial for ensuring the safety of both nurses and inmates in potentially volatile situations. 

When considering a career in correctional nursing, be prepared to undergo specialized training and education to adequately care for your patients.

Most importantly, gender-specific training is often required for those working in women’s correctional facilities, as the needs and health concerns of female inmates may differ significantly from males.

prison bars

Interpersonal Skills

Correctional nurses must possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills. This role involves interacting with inmates who may be aggressive, uncooperative, or suffering from mental health issues.

You’ll need to maintain professionalism and patience in all interactions. You must also possess the ability to build trust quickly and establish a therapeutic relationship with your patients. As a correctional nurse, you’ll be responsible for providing physical and emotional care to inmates who may have had limited access or negative experiences with healthcare in the past.

A compassionate and non-judgmental approach is essential to gaining their cooperation and building rapport.

Ethical Considerations

Working in a correctional environment presents unique ethical challenges. Nurses must adhere to the code of ethics for nurses, ensuring that all individuals receive appropriate and equal care, irrespective of their criminal status.

Confidentiality is also crucial, as inmates have a right to privacy like any other patient. Correctional nurses must navigate ethical dilemmas such as reporting illegal activity, providing care to victims of violence within the facility, and administering medication for chronic conditions that may be used improperly by inmates.

It’s essential to remain current on ethical standards and guidelines specific to the correctional nursing field.

Emotional Resilience

Due to the nature of the work environment, correctional nurses must be emotionally resilient. You’ll encounter situations and patient histories that may be distressing. It’s crucial to have a healthy outlet and support system to cope with the emotional toll of caring for incarcerated individuals.

Working in a potentially dangerous environment can cause stress and burnout. Self-care practices such as exercise, therapy, and time off are essential for maintaining mental well-being.

Emotional resilience does not only equate to being tough; it means recognizing and addressing your emotional needs to provide the best possible care for your patients. After all, working with an often stigmatized population requires a strong sense of empathy and compassion.

prison nurse

Safety Measures

Understanding and following strict safety protocols is crucial in this role. You must be prepared to work in a high-security environment and adhere to all safety measures to protect yourself and others. This includes wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), following proper infection control procedures, and knowing how to handle emergencies such as riots or inmate attacks.

Many facilities also require correctional nurses to undergo defensive tactics training in case of physical altercations with inmates. Safety is the top priority for both staff and patients and being vigilant in maintaining it is crucial.

While working in a correctional facility may present unique challenges, it also offers the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of individuals who often face significant barriers to healthcare. Hence, being safe could mean you’re making a difference in someone’s life.

Commitment to Care

Ultimately, to succeed as a correctional nurse, you must be committed to providing high-quality healthcare to a marginalized population, often judged and stigmatized by society. This profession demands a strong sense of compassion and a firm belief in the right to healthcare for all individuals. You must be willing to advocate for your patients and provide them with the same level of care you would in any other healthcare setting. 

The commitment to care goes beyond just providing treatment; it also involves promoting health education, addressing social determinants of health, and advocating for necessary resources within the correctional system.

In this role, you have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of your patients and contribute to their rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Becoming a correctional nurse requires dedication, specialized training, and a unique set of skills. But for those who have a passion for making a positive impact, this career can be incredibly fulfilling.

It offers the opportunity to provide healthcare to an underserved population and make a meaningful difference in their lives. With continued education, strong ethical values, and dedication to care, correctional nurses play an essential role in ensuring the health and well-being of those within the correctional system.

So, if you are considering this career path, be prepared for a challenging yet rewarding journey that will allow you to use your nursing skills and make a difference in the world.