Closely Guarded Nursing Jobs: Correctional Facility RN Positions

Once A Best-Kept Secret

It has been a number of decades since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that inmates in correctional facilities must have access to qualified medical care. Unfortunately for most medical and healthcare professionals the field of correctional health has carried a less than desirable reputation. Most professionals are only beginning to find out that nursing jobs in correctional facilities are perhaps a best-kept secret.


Allure of Correctional Nursing

Many correctional nurses report that they did not pursue correctional nursing, but instead ended up in positions when offered too-good-to-refuse salaries and benefits. This is one of the secrets of correctional nurse positions—that many institutions are willing to ante up more dollars per hour to attract well-qualified nursing staff.

For most RNs in nursing the draw is either to a particular patient care setting, or a particular population of client, and then again to a specialization in a certain disease or condition. A correctional facility challenges nurses on all levels. As daunting as this may seem for some, a growing number of RNs are intrigued and at home with the autonomy afforded by the job, another best kept secret.

Workplace Independence

In traditional nursing settings, nurses typically work under the direction of physicians, but in correctional nursing most facilities hire RNs that work independently or at least remotely from any physician. This independence means a couple of things: correctional nurses must be well-qualified and confident to make their own patient care decisions and they must be willing to work independently. The situation typically allows professionals to forge long-term relationships with recurrent “patients” or inmates.

Benefits and Risks of Correctional Nursing

Of course correctional nursing is not without its risks. Nurses in these settings may work with hardened criminals and the threat of physical harm is omnipresent. However, actual incidents are rare; nurses must however learn to develop a thick skin and attend to inmates as any other patient regardless of criminal record. Most nursing professionals are more than willing to say that the benefits of the job far outweigh the risks and urban legends associated with correctional facilities jobs.

Degrees and Program Credentialing

Correctional nursing is still in the evolutionary stages of development. RNs may find good jobs in a variety of correctional facilities and work toward attaining an expert level of experience in the field. Nurses are encouraged to earn BSN or MSN degrees and apply for industry credentials. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care recommends the following two certifications:

  • The Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP) certification is designed as an across the board credential for all health care professionals working in corrections environments. The exam focuses on clinical skills within this challenging environment.
  • Advanced CCHP is focused on administrative aspects of the job. The exam considers candidates’ level of education, as well as any outstanding workplace challenges.

Challenges Facing Correctional Nurses

Because of the unique setting and population of patients, correctional nurses often face challenging job situations:

  • Inmates in correctional facilities often present with challenging, complex and even unusual medical histories and conditions. A predominant characteristic of a prison population is that many come from disadvantaged backgrounds in which formal healthcare was neglected or completely absent.
  • Nursing professionals may be faced with ethical issues when it comes to treating or responding to inmates/patients.
  • Infectious and contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, TB and others, offer treatment and containment challenges not faced by hospital nurses.

By most accounts the popularity in correctional nursing jobs is expected to improve significantly. RNs have unique opportunities available to them, along with the chance to work with challenging patients and health situations. As word gets out, more nurses may be tempted by well-paying jobs in this growing, and increasingly specialized, field.


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