4 Steps to Becoming a Correctional Nurse

6 Min Read Published September 21, 2023
Nurse checking blood pressure of inmate in prison

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!

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.

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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,

  1. Caring for patients with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension
  2. Documenting patient medical histories, especially for new inmates
  3. Monitoring patients' vital signs 
  4. Administering medications
  5. Performing wound dressing changes
  6. Maintaining proper protocols and safety procedures as dictated by state and federal governments
  7. Providing mental health assessments and referrals 
  8. Collaborating with other healthcare providers  
  9. Monitoring patient’s progress and response to treatment
  10. Educating patients on their diagnosis and medical care
  11. Overseeing ancillary staff, including LPNs and CNAs
  12. Performing drug screenings
  13. Performing physical assessments
  14. Collecting biological samples, including blood samples
  15. Reviewing the patient’s medical records 
  16. Referring patients to specialists for more specialized care and treatment
  17. Caring for patients during emergencies such as stabbings and heart attacks
  18. Ensuring all medical equipment, including needles and scalpels, are stored safely

Correctional Nurse Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2022 is $81,220 per year or $39.05 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 median salary of $93,962 for Correctional Nurses. Payscale.com reports an annual average salary of $68,941

Correctional nurses employed by the federal government will be paid based on the federal pay scale that includes numerous factors. 

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 becoming 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. 

CCHP Eligibility Certification

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. Good character and fitness. 

CCHP-RN Eligibility Certification

  1. Current CCHP certification
  2. 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
  3. The equivalent of two years of full-time practice as a registered nurse
  4. 2,000 hours of practice in a correctional setting within the last three years
  5. 54 hours of continuing education in nursing, with 18 specific to correctional health care, within the last three years

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 that provides care at a state or federal level. 

Individuals who 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:

  1. Health insurance
  2. Certification Reimbursement      
  3. Retirement Options
  4. Holiday Pay
  5. Family Leave of Absence
  6. Maternity Leave
  7. Dental Insurance
  8. Dependent health insurance coverage
  9. Life Insurance
  10. Paid time off
  11. Relocation assistance
  12. Childcare
  13. Bereavement leave       
  14. Vision Insurance        
  15. Discounts on extracurricular activities      
  16. Continuing Education Reimbursement
  17. Relocation packages
  18. Attendance at nursing conferences

What is the Career Outlook for a Correctional Nurse?

According to the BLS, in 2022, there were 3,172,500 registered nurses in the United States. By 2032, there will be a need for an additional 177,400 nurses, which is an expected growth of 6%.

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. 

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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 who 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 topics 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.

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Resources for Correctional Nurses

Check out these additional resources for more information on correctional nursing!

  1. American Correctional Nurses Association
  2. National Commission on Correctional Health Care
  3. American Correctional Association
  4. American Correctional Health Services Association
  5. Journal of Correctional Health Care
  6. Federal Bureau of Prisons

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. Additionally, most positions 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 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. 

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Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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