By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, BA, RN, CBC
Correctional nurses oversee the medical needs of inmates in prisons, detention centers, and group homes. They are responsible for overseeing all care and stabilizing incarcerated patients when needed until transfer to a higher level of medical care is available. In this guide, we’ll explain what a Correctional nurse does, how to become one, how much they make, and more!
Part One What is a Correctional Nurse?
Correctional nurses help oversee the treatment and healthcare of inmates for acute, chronic, and emergency health conditions.
Because of the location they work in, correctional nurses must be prepared for anything. Traumatic injuries, communicable diseases, and mental health are some of the most common issues seen by correctional nurses. These patients need to be stabilized under transfer for advanced medical care.
Correctional nurses often work with only a few other healthcare professionals and with limited supplies. For this reason, correctional nurses must have strong assessment skills and be able to use only the resources they have available.
Part Two What Does a Correctional Nurse Do?
Correctional nurses have to be well-equipped to deal with a variety of medical and health problems. Often correctional nurses will have to take care of inmates after stabbings, fights, and poisonings.
At times, these health-related issues will only be seen by correctional nurses. For that reason, a strong medical-surgical background is essential.
More specific duties of a Correctional Nurse include,
- Caring for patients with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension
- Documenting patient medical histories, especially for new inmates
- Monitoring patients vital signs
- Administering medications
- Performing wound dressing changes
- Maintaining proper protocols and safety procedures as dictated by state and federal governments
- Providing mental health assessments and referrals
- Collaborating with other healthcare providers
- Monitoring patient’s progress and response to treatment
- Educating patients on their diagnosis and medical care
- Overseeing ancillary staff including LPNs and CNAs
- Performing drug screenings
- Performing physical assessments
- Collecting biological samples including blood samples
- Reviewing the patient’s medical records
- Referring patients to specialists for more specialized care and treatment
- Caring for patients during emergencies such as stabbings and heart attacks
- Ensuring all medical equipment, including needles and scalpels, are stored safely
Part Three Correctional Nurse Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2019 is $73,300 per year or $35.24 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary. The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing, but Glassdoor.com reports an annual average salary of $65,870 for Correctional Nurses. Payscale.com reports an annual average salary of $64,803.
Correctional nurses employed by the federal government will be paid based on the federal pay scale that includes numerous factors.
Part Four How Do You Become a Correctional Nurse?
To become a Correctional Nurse, you’ll need to complete the following steps:
Step 1: Attend Nursing School
You’ll need to earn either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to become a registered nurse. ADN-prepared nurses can complete an additional step of completing their BSN degree if they wish.
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN
Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.
Step 3: Gain Experience at the Bedside
Correctional nurses have a greater deal of autonomy compared to other nursing specialties. For that reason, it is essential they have a strong medical-surgical nursing foundation.
Step 4: Earn Your Certification
The National Commission on Correctional Health Care offers the CCHP-RN certification to eligible individuals. Prior to obtaining the CCHP-RN certification individuals must earn the CCHP certification.
- Credentials appropriate to the applicant's field and employment position, and the requirements of the U.S. state or territory in which the applicant is licensed.
- The credentials must be free of any restriction that would limit professional practice solely to the correctional setting. If a license or credential is not required for practice, then the credential is not required for certification.
- Good character and fitness.
- Current CCHP certification
- Current, active RN license within a U.S. state (for Canada and U.S. territories, credentials will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis); the license must not be restricted to practice in correctional settings only
- Equivalent of two years of full-time practice as a registered nurse
- 2,000 hours of practice in a correctional setting within the last three years
- 54 hours of continuing education in nursing, with 18 specific to correctional health care, within the last three years
Part Five Where Do Correctional Nurses Work?
Correctional nurses generally work in jails and penitentiaries. They may also work in juvenile detention facilities, halfway houses, and group homes.
Correctional nurses can be employed on the state or federal level. Furthermore, correctional nurses can be employed by a contractor agency which provides care at a state or federal level.
Individuals that are employed at the state or federal level are considered government employees and are subject to different rules, regulations, training, and requirements than other employees. Government employees will be held to specific standards and require additional training due to state and federal guidelines.
Regardless of the workplace setting, full-time and part-time nurses enjoy similar benefits. While actual benefits may vary depending on the institution most include the following:
- Health insurance
- Certification Reimbursement
- Retirement Options
- Holiday Pay
- Family Leave of Absence
- Maternity Leave
- Dental Insurance
- Dependent health insurance coverage
- Life Insurance
- Paid time off
- Relocation assistance
- Bereavement leave
- Vision Insurance
- Discounts on extracurricular activities
- Continuing Education Reimbursement
- Relocation packages
- Attendance at nursing conferences
Part Six What is the Career Outlook for a Correctional Nurse?
According to the BLS, in 2019, there were 3,096,700 Registered Nurses in the United States. By 2029, there will be a need for additional 221,900 nurses, which is an expected growth of 7%.
The need for correctional nurses will continue to grow as all sites are mandated at a state and federal level to have a correctional nurse on staff. Most sites will have multiple nurses on staff. Larger facilities will staff multiple nurses during shifts and 24/7, while smaller jails may only have one nurse available during specific hours.
Part Seven What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Correctional Nurse?
Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.
If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management.
Individuals that have their CCHP-RN Eligibility Certification are required to earn 18 continuing education hours annually. According to the CCHP-RN website, there are two categories of continuing education. The CEU hours needed for recertification can also be used for RN license recertification.
- Category 1
- Minimum of 6 hours is required
- Any continuing education activity specific to correctional health care
- Any activity with health-related topic that is conducted in the correctional setting or with topics that involve providing health services in a correctional setting
- Category 2
- No minimum hour requirement
- Any CEU hours related to the nursing profession
A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here.
Part Eight Resources for Correctional Nurses
Check out these additional resources for more information on correctional nursing!
- American Correctional Nurses Association
- National Commission on Correctional Health Care
- American Correctional Association
- American Correctional Health Services Association
- Journal of Correctional Health Care
- Federal Bureau of Prisons
Part Nine Correctional Nurse FAQs
What do Correctional Nurses do?
- Correctional nurses care for inmates in jails and penitentiaries. In collaboration with other healthcare providers, correctional nurses are responsible for the total care of inmates with acute and chronic medical conditions.
What skills do you need to be a Correctional Nurse?
- Correctional nurses MUST have thick skin and the ability to adapt to any situation. They should have strong assessment skills, excellent communication skills, and the ability to function independently.
What do Correctional Nurses wear?
- Correctional nurses should wear scrubs or business casual clothing. It is important to know the color the inmates wear, such as orange or black, and ensure that you are not wearing that color. This will differentiate you from the inmates. If you are wearing the same color as inmates you will not be granted access to the facility. Most do not allow jewelry including necklaces and larger earrings. These can be dangerous to the wearer.
How do I know if correctional nursing is right for me?
- Correctional nurses must have thick skin and be able to think quickly in tense situations. They should be comfortable around foul language, potential threats, and possibly inappropriate harassment from inmates. Most go through an uncomfortable period at the beginning of becoming a correctional nurse, so it is important to give it adequate time to determine if it is the right fit for you.