Correctional Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook 2020

Nurses who want to bring high-quality healthcare to individuals incarcerated in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities may want to learn how to become a correctional nurse. What is a correctional nurse and what does a correctional nurse do? These professionals treat a variety of acute and chronic conditions, helping ensure inmates' health and well-being.

Most correctional nurses hold a license as a registered nurse (RN), though some facilities may hire licensed practical nurses (LPN) to assist an RN or nurse practitioner. This page details how to become a correctional nurse. Prospective nurses can browse correctional nurse degree options, correctional nurse requirements, and correctional nurse salary data.

What is a Correctional Nurse?

Correctional nurses provide direct patient care to inmates in correctional facilities, such as jails or prisons. These nurses need experience in a variety of care settings. They may treat patients for emergency medical conditions or injuries, acute illness, or chronic medical conditions. While the lead nurse likely holds an RN license or advanced practice certification, many facilities also hire LPNs to carry out RN instructions. Correctional nurses help ensure inmate health and safety with timely medical intervention while also assisting governments in managing medical expenses for their inmate population.

What Do Correctional Nurses Do?

Correctional nurses work with patients who have been incarcerated in prisons, juvenile detention centers, or other correctional facilities. They work with the same qualifications and experience as registered nurses but possess additional certification and training for the difficult and often stressful situations that may arise in the prison system. Although a hospital is often a high-stress, fast-paced, and intense setting for nurses, a correctional facility can be more of a whirlwind. Correctional nurses need thick skin and strong critical-thinking skills to succeed. These professionals assess, diagnose, and treat inmates at the same level of expertise as any hospital or clinic.

Correctional nurses treat their patients for a variety of needs. Some patients require ongoing treatment for chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. Nurses may also treat patients for medical emergencies, such as heart attacks or traumatic injuries. They administer medication and must carefully track the inventory of controlled substances. Correctional nurses collect biological samples for lab tests, such as blood work or drug screenings.

These professionals must maintain accurate patient records and communicate regularly with the physician or nurse practitioner overseeing inmates' care. They must review patient medical records when new inmates arrive and often fill in the blanks for patients without complete medical histories. Correctional nurses may also work with medical providers and jail administrators to refer patients to specialists for additional treatment.

Where Do Correctional Nurses Work?

Correctional nurses work in a variety of correctional facilities, including large prisons, community jails, or halfway houses. They may work for a government agency or a private corporation contracting with a government to provide correctional health services. Nurses may work with a team of healthcare professionals, such as physicians, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners. However, these nurses often enjoy autonomy to treat patients within the scope of established medical protocols.

Because correctional facilities must ensure inmate safety and well-being at all times, many facilities require 24-hour nursing staffing. Nurses typically work a shift of eight hours a day, with 40 or more hours required, including nights.

Skills That Could Affect Correctional Nurse Salaries

Correctional nurses must use their problem-solving and analytical skills to assess patient needs and provide appropriate care in a timely manner. They should possess knowledge in areas of patient care and safety, health promotion, and risk assessment gained through a nursing program and on-the-job training.

Correctional nurses need excellent communication skills to talk to patients about symptoms and actively listen for clues as to the patient's condition. They must react quickly in emergencies to provide appropriate care and possess the good judgement when to seek additional resources, such as a facility transfer or consultation with a medical specialist.

Correctional nurses must also stay organized. They often take responsibility for inventory, patient records, and patient care within a facility's infirmary. Because many tasks require using a computer, nurses also need strong technology skills.


How to Become a Correctional Nurse

Correctional nurses may hold licensure as an LPN, RN, or an advanced practice nurse. Educational, training, and testing requirements vary by state.

Responsibilities increase with each license, but nurses may enter the field with as little as one year of nursing training. Often, a prison or jail infirmary serves as both an emergency care center and a primary care facility for patients. A correctional nurse degree should include clinical rotations in these specialties, followed by 1-2 years of work experience.

Education

A correctional nurse degree may require only one year of coursework to become an LPN. Registered nurse programs may take two years to complete. Degree-seekers study biology, anatomy, and pharmacology. Curriculum also includes extensive fieldwork and clinical rotations. These experiences allow students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom in practical settings.

Programs must be approved by the state board of nursing or licensing board. Learners should also ensure their school holds regional accreditation and programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.

After completing an associate degree in nursing, many schools offer bridge programs to bachelor's or master's degrees in nursing. These programs allow nurses to specialize in a particular area of patient care and advance their career opportunities.

Training and Certification

After professionals complete their nursing education, states require they pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX offers exams for practical nurses and registered nurses, depending on education level.

Nurses must apply for licensure in the state where they will work. The application includes a review of nurses' education, character, and background. Most states conduct a criminal background check and require disclosure of convictions. If individuals move, they must apply for a license in their new state of employment. However, 34 states have joined a nurse licensure compact that recognizes nursing licenses from member states.

Once licensed, nurses may begin work. Part of how to become a correctional nurse includes experience in a variety of care settings, such as hospitals, critical care units, or emergency departments. Many correctional nurses also seek specialized credentials. While voluntary, these certifications show nurses possess the specialized knowledge and skills necessary to work in correctional facilities. The National Commission on Correctional Health Care offers the Certified Correctional Health Professional designation for RNs. The organization also offers certification as an advanced correctional health professional and a mental health designation.


Correctional Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

How much does a correctional nurse make? Registered nurses enjoy substantial employment opportunities across all specializations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for nurses to grow 12% through 2028, with about 371,500 new positions. An aging population, greater emphasis on preventative healthcare, and making greater use of nurses' healthcare knowledge drives employment. Correctional nursing continues to need highly qualified nurses.

The BLS projects jobs in the correctional field to decrease 7% through 2028 thanks to efforts to reform sentencing laws and seek alternatives to incarceration. However, job prospects remain strong due to the need to replace officers who retire or transfer to other occupations. Correctional facility staff must still provide medical services for the individuals placed in their care, as well.

Education, training, and location impact a correctional nurse's salary. RNs earn $63,263 compared to LPNs who earn $43,528. RNs with emergency room experience earn an average of $66,391, while critical care nurses earn $72,656. Los Angeles and New York pay the highest salaries for correctional nurses.

Highest Salary Locations for Registered Nurses
National Median $63,263
Los Angeles, California $86,670
New York, New York $82,874
Houston, Texas $71,487
Chicago, Illinois $65,793
Dallas, Texas $63,793

Source: PayScale


Median Salary for Registered Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $53,736
  • Early Career: $59,439
  • Mid Career: $65,530
  • Experienced: $69,027
  • Late Career: $72,001

Source: PayScale


Related Job Salaries
Medical Assistant Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) Registered Nurse (RN), Emergency Room Registered Nurse (RN), Critical Care
$32,840 $27,891 $43,528 $66,391 $72,656

Source: PayScale


Correctional Nurse Resources

  • American Correctional Association ACA leadership includes a subject matter expert in correctional healthcare, with voluntary accreditation standards for facilities and professional certification. This national organization provides members with a subscription to Corrections Today magazine. Members also receive discounts on conference registration costs and voting privileges in elections. Professional development includes online courses, in-person training events, and a self-study certification program.
  • National Commission on Correctional Health Care This national organization strives to improve the quality of healthcare in prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. NCCHC offers voluntary professional certifications for healthcare providers working in the correctional industry and sets standards for correctional healthcare services. The commission also conducts research and weighs in on policy discussions. The group's online bookstore and periodicals help correctional nurses prepare for certification and stay abreast of field developments.
  • CorrectionalNurse.net Authors and correctional nurses, Dr. Lori Roscoe and Lorry Schoenly, share their industry experience through this online blog. They discuss bodybuilding, patient advocacy, and medical concerns related to tasers and other electronic control weapons. These nurses also share a collection of resources related to the medical needs of incarcerated individuals and guidelines for correctional healthcare teams.
  • Nurse.com Job Search Job seekers can use this national job search service to browse jobs by specialty, location, contract, and shift. Individuals can create a free account and upload their resumes, receive job alerts, and track their applications. The site also includes a blog related to the nursing profession and available resources. Users can enjoy a variety of continuing education opportunities through online learning or live sessions.
  • American Nurses Association ANA allows nurses across the county to connect with other nurses in their specialization. Communities cater to new nurses, experienced nurses, and nursing leaders. The organization offers panels discussing professional concerns like ethics, nurse abuse, and connect health. Several nurses also post blogs sharing their thoughts on a variety of nursing-related issues.