Nursing Jobs in Correctional Facilities: 7 Things You Need to Know

Last Updated on December 6, 2021

male nurse wearing a stethoscope around neck and a blue nurse scrubs with a gray metal background

For RNs, LPNs and CNAs seeking employment opportunities, nursing jobs in correctional facilities can offer an exciting chance to build your career while earning great pay and unique experience. Yet many nurses don’t consider these types of assignments, assuming that it’s too dangerous, or that it requires skills they don’t have.

But that’s really not the case! The truth is, the day-to-day duties of working in correctional and rehabilitation facilities aren’t much different than in traditional care settings. Although they vary based on the specific discipline, position and facility involved, these jobs usually center on administering medication, conducting routine exams, and other standard tasks.

You may also be surprised to learn that, far from being unsafe, prison settings offer an emphasis on security not often found in hospitals or health centers. The bottom line? Working in correctional facilities isn’t what you think it is! And here are a few reasons why this may be a career opportunity worth considering.

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7 Things To Know About Nursing Jobs In Correctional Facilities

1. Nurses can earn more working in correctional facilities than in traditional care settings. It varies from assignment to assignment, but on average, nursing jobs in correctional facilities offer higher rates of pay to attract talented professionals.

2. You won’t be expected to ‘kick butt and take names.’ Believe it or not, working in a prison or other disciplinary setting isn’t that much different than what you’d experience in a hospital or clinic. It’s not a law enforcement job; you won’t be expected to assist officers in disciplining or restraining inmates. In fact, you’ll always be accompanied by an officer to ensure you can do your job without difficulty.

3. There’s an emphasis on safety. The safety of nurses and other civilian personnel is a top priority for the deputies and corrections officers working at correctional facilities. Officers are always present during patient exams, and every room has a call button to call security at an instant.

“I have never feared for my safety there, ever,” Kate Olivia, who works as a correctional nurse, told VICE. “For the most part, I’ve found dealing with the incarcerated population, they’re pretty respectful to the nursing staff because they know that we’re there to help them.”

“I have never felt afraid or been attacked,” agreed Denver Sheriff Department nursing program manager Richard Hammel in a conversation with Nursing@USC. “There are deputies close by to step in and make sure everyone is safe, both the patient and the health care worker.”

4. There are many opportunities available. Because some nurses are reluctant to accept positions in prison settings, the need to fill these jobs is greater than in many other facilities. The result is that, in certain states with highly competitive job markets (particularly California), nurses with just a year or two of experience can find great opportunities in high-paying facilities offering full benefits.

5. Assignments are available in some of America’s best places to live. A recent scan of the nursing jobs in correctional facilities on CareerStaff found dozens of positions available in highly desirable states like California, Texas and Georgia. These are among the most popular areas for nurses seeking employment, and correctional assignments could offer a helpful entry point for those looking to relocate there.

6. Incarcerated patients need your help. According to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, people in prison are more likely to suffer from chronic and infectious disease. And as a Nursing@USC report explains, this is often made worse by the lack of consistent access to treatment and greater potential for undiagnosed issues.

In short, incarcerated patients are in unique need of skilled, compassionate care. They’re also, arguably, people whose place in society means they’re least likely to receive that care. “If you look at the social determinants of health and wellness, we see a lot of the same family members, the same names,” as Olivia explained. “It’s cyclical, they come in over and over. It’s almost something that they’re born into.”

“For the most part, they’re not criminals to me,” she added. “They’re my patients. A lot of them are just normal people.”

7. You’ll get a unique chance to develop important personal skills. In addition to the opportunity of adding an impressive new chapter to your portfolio, correctional nursing also gives you the chance to develop other skills that can be just as important to your career. For example, it’s a great way to achieve higher levels of focus and versatility, as the job both rewards objectivity and teaches perspective.

For example, treating a pregnant woman who’s incarcerated poses a different set of challenges than one who’s not, and coping with those differences will give you a valuable perspective on care when and if you decide to return to a traditional setting. And no matter who you’re treating, the job rewards your ability to focus on the task at hand, rather than dwelling on fears or biases about the setting or inmates.

Is A Correctional Facility Nursing Job Right For You?

Like any other setting, nursing jobs in correctional facilities come with their own set of unique challenges. Nurses are often called upon to display flexibility not just in their ability to multitask but also to mentally adapt to difficult situations. The ability to cope with stressful situations is a must, too.

Yet for many nurses, these challenges are part of the appeal, more than offset by the chance to make a real difference in the life of someone who’s suffering. The rewards of this kind of work are substantial, including not just professional satisfaction and personal growth, but life-affirming shifts in perspective that come from helping those who truly need it, and who have no other opportunity to receive it.

If you’re interested in pursuing a correctional facility nursing job, or would like some more info, we welcome you to reach out to us through a quick apply or 972-812-3200. You can also join our roster of nursing professionals here, or browse our list of correctional facility nursing jobs here.

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