Correctional Nurse Career Overview
| NurseJournal Staff
A correctional nurse provides healthcare for people in correctional settings such as jails and prisons.
Correctional Nurse Career in Brief
Correctional nurses provide healthcare to inmates in correctional institutions. Some also provide care to staff as well as inmates, but inmates are usually correctional nurses' primary population.
Correctional nurses work under the direction of physicians or nurse practitioners and may supervise nursing assistants. They monitor inmates' health, treat inmates' health conditions and injuries, and may provide health education and coaching.
- Communication skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Maximizing resources
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Where Do Correctional Nurses Work?
Correctional nurse jobs are almost entirely in jails or prisons, but correctional nurses may also work in halfway houses, group homes for juvenile offenders, and work-release settings.
- Jails or Prisons
- Correctional nurses triage healthcare issues, provide direct care under a physician or advanced practice nurse, conduct health testing, and educate inmates on preventative health.
- Halfway Houses
- Correctional nurses conduct health testing, educate inmates on healthy eating and other health habits, and provide direct care.
- Group Homes
- Correctional nurses offer health education, including on substance use and reproductive health, provide direct care, and coach on healthy habits and behaviors.
Is Correctional Nursing Right for Me?
Correctional nurse jobs can be tremendously demanding both physically and emotionally. Inmates may exhibit antisocial behaviors toward correctional staff and have multiple or complex health problems. Facilities also may not be well resourced. Still, correctional nurses have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping people in need of care and that they can play a role in rehabilitation.
Advantages to Becoming a Correctional Nurse
- Making a difference by teaching healthy or rehabilitative behaviors
- Treating a wide variety of health conditions, both chronic and acute
- High appreciation from inmates who may have received little to no healthcare in the past
- High demand
Disadvantages to Becoming a Correctional Nurse
- Work can be emotionally draining with high burnout.
- Facilities maintain high safety protocols, but nurses may need to be more alert and vigilant than in other healthcare settings.
- Correctional institutes are often under-resourced.
How to Become a Correctional Nurse
Correctional nurses can practice as a licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), registered nurse (RN), or advanced practice RN. (Terminology is the only difference between LPNs and LVNs; Texas and California use the term "LVN.")
Some nurses begin their career as LPNs, since that takes just one year of education. Others start with the two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) or four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
Earn your high school diploma or equivalent
Graduate from a BSN, an ADN, or LPN/LVN program
Pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN to receive nursing licensure
Gain clinical nursing experience
Consider becoming a certified correctional health professional (CCHP)
Advance your career by earning a master of science in nursing (MSN)
Certifications in Correctional Nursing
Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP)This credential does not require work experience but applicants must hold a nursing license; students and new entrants may apply. The multiple-choice exam includes questions on correctional healthcare standards.
CCHP-RNThis credential requires the CCHP credential and a two-hour multiple-choice examination on correctional nursing topics.
CCHP-AThis is the advanced version of the CCPH credential. It requires the CCPH and passing an advanced essay examination on correctional healthcare standards.
CCHP-MHThis credential focuses on mental health. The two-hour multiple-choice exam requires an existing CCPH credential and completing questions on mental health standards for correctional healthcare.
How Much Do Correctional Nurses Make?
The average annual base salary for correctional nurses is $54,000, according to PayScale, and total pay ranges from $38,000 to $78,000. A number of factors determine correctional nurse salaries, including experience, required credentials, and geographic location.
Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7% growth from 2019-2029 for all RN jobs. However, correctional nurse job growth will depend upon funding for correctional institutions, changing inmate healthcare needs, and any regulations that affect correctional staffing levels.
Frequently Asked Questions
It can take one year to become an LPN and either two or four years to become an RN, depending on whether the nurse has an ADN or a BSN degree. Entry-level CCHP certification does not require experience.
The questions on the CCHP-RN exam cover correctional nursing practices, including policies, legal and ethical issues, disease transmission and prevention, communications, and nursing program management. The questions are multiple choice.
While many might view working in a correctional facility as unsafe, these facilities follow high security protocols to ensure the safety of all inmates and staff. In any setting, nursing presents health risks due to exposure or interactions with people under severe stress or with mental health conditions. Correctional populations can present additional risks, but in all settings, following best practices and procedures greatly reduces risk.
Correctional healthcare facilities are often under-resourced, and correctional nurses may feel some ambiguity about caring for persons who have committed certain crimes. However, most nurses caring for inmates see their role as serving an at-risk or vulnerable population.
Resources for Correctional Nurses
National Commission on Correctional Health CareThe National Commission on Correctional Health Care issues certifications, conducts facility accreditations through peer review, offers professional development opportunities, and publishes standards, newsletters, and a journal. Unlike the organizations listed below, it is not an association and does not have members.
American Correctional Nurses AssociationThe American Correctional Nurses Association offers professional development and continuing education, including conferences, and conducts advocacy to increase correctional health resources. Nurses and nursing students are eligible for full membership and others for affiliate membership.
Academy of Correctional Health ProfessionalsThe Academy of Correctional Health Professionals issues newsletters and a journal, provides professional development and continuing education in partnership with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and connects students and young professionals with mentors. Membership is open to all interested in correctional health.
American Correctional AssociationThe American Correctional Association publishes correctional standards, performs accreditation, offers professional development and education, and issues certifications, including certifications for correctional behavioral health, health services administrators, correctional nurses, and correctional nurse managers.
Nicole Galan is a registered nurse who earned a master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University and currently works as a full-time freelance writer. Throughout her nursing career, Galan worked in a general medical/surgical care unit and then in infertility care. She has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students.
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