In this article, we’re going to talk about tips for new correctional nurses.
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Being a correctional nurse is a unique experience. Sure, every nursing specialty is unique in their own way, but correctional nursing is different.
The only way to truly understand it is to have worked it yourself.
The only other nursing specialty we can think of that probably comes close to mirroring being a nurse in a jail or prison system is psych nursing.
But that comparison is for another article.
Instead, what we want to do in the rest of this article is to give you some practical tips and advice you can use to be successful as a correctional nurse.
Top Tips for New Correctional Nurses
1. Make Sure You Have a Good Preceptor
In most of our articles for new nurses or nurses stepping into a new role, we like to highlight the importance of a good preceptor. This one is no different.
A good preceptor is important because this is the person that’s going to show you how to do your job well.
This is the person that’s going to go over rules and guidelines when dealing with inmates, either formally or informally.
We cannot stress enough the importance of a good preceptor.
If you have issues with your preceptor or you just don’t think you’re learning enough from them, make sure to have a conversation with your manager.
The goal of that conversation is to figure out where the disconnect or problem could be.
2. Treat the Officers with Respect
Correctional officers are a vital part of the medical clinic in correctional facilities.
Their job is to keep everyone safe. I find it odd that some nurses will go to extremes to try to disrespect the correctional officers.
I’m not saying you need to become best friends with them, but you MUST develop a working relationship.
Because let me put it to you this way.
When things get tough, and you have an inmate escalating in a situation, you’re going to call the correctional officers to come to the rescue.
3. Do NOT Flirt with Inmates
Unfortunately, this needs to be talked about.
This does happen on a regular basis, and it is unlikely the employee in question started their correction career with this in mind.
Be aware that inmates will be watching you and testing out how firm your boundaries are.
Be overly cautious, and a little cold if needed. In any other setting, we are instructed to be empathetic with wonderful bedside manner.
This is not necessarily appropriate in the correctional setting.
Oh, and FYI, it’s a felony in most states to have sexual relations with an inmate aka you could be criminally prosecuted (source).
If you need another example here’s one from the United States Justice Department. I go further into professional conduct below, but I thought this should be thrown in earlier.
4. Be aware of Inmate Games
Inmates watch your every move, especially if you’re new. Be aware that they will be looking for information about you.
Give them little to go by. There is no need to give additional information about yourself.
If asked a personal question, it is always appropriate to answer, “I do not answer personal questions.”
Be ready with your response… you will need it!
5. Follow Facility Safety Protocols
Working in a prison or jail as a nurse can be very safe. If you think about it, it could be one of the safest nursing positions around.
You have access to trained officers patrolling the area regularly, and there are procedures in place to promote safety.
Processes that are not even considered if you’re working in a non-correctional facility.
Listen to your training and be aware of what to do in an emergency.
What would you do in a tornado or earthquake?
What about a hostage situation?
Each prison will have specific protocols for their facility. Become familiar with the protocols specific to every facility you work at.
6. Learn how to write a decent incident report
Guess what. The prison is filled with drama!! At some point, you will need to write an incident report.
Before this happens, save a blank copy of the incident report template in your files for quick access.
Do not rely on others to write incident reports for you.
Not only does this cause frustration among your coworkers, but you need to be mindful that you are your own best advocate.
Not everyone has your best interest at heart, and conflicting or inconsistent incident reports can reflect this.
7. Remember the Inmates are Still Your Patients
Depending on the prison you will be reporting to, you’re going to be taking care of patients who have done some of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
You are still going to have to provide exceptional care. It’s going to be hard. It won’t be easy.
If you have to avoid reading their criminal history report to separate your emotions from your actions, then do that.
At the same time, I do want to remind you to…
8. Remember Your Patients Are Inmates
I know what you’re thinking. He’s talking from both sides of his mouth.
But this is also important because while you should provide the same level of care as you would any patient in a hospital, you’re also taking care of patients who might have a history of very violent and aggressive behaviors.
You need to be professional without becoming personal.
For many of us, this means going against some instincts regarding your bedside manner. For example, while you do need to introduce yourself, you do not need to shake hands.
One of the most helpful and respectful things you can do working with inmates is to keep a firm boundary with them.
The goal is to strike a balance between the two.
9. Set Firm Limits with the Inmates
Unlike a “regular” hospital where it’s all about patient satisfaction, and if a patient is upset and being verbally abusive, everyone is running around trying to make them feel better.
In corrections, if an inmate starts acting like that you should call the guard and have them removed from the area.
You need to set those firm limits because once word gets out (and it will) that you aren’t a pushover and don’t tolerate that kind of behavior things will be better.
10. Make Sure You Maintain Appropriate Boundaries
Ask any correctional nurse who has worked long enough, and they’ll tell you stories of inappropriate behavior between staff members and an inmate.
This could range from inappropriate conversations to inappropriate intimate relations.
You need to be mindful of maintaining boundaries because while touching a patient’s hand in a hospital to comfort them might be appropriate.
That kind of behavior is easily misinterpreted in the correctional nursing field.
To further highlight this point…
11. Avoid Unnecessary Contact
No hugs, physical comforting or anything of that nature.
This can easily be misinterpreted as having a romantic interest and could get you in trouble.
Please remember the patients you’re working with. They’re generally not ones skilled at maintaining appropriate boundaries.
12. Avoid Unnecessary Words of Endearment
If you’re the type to freely use terms like sweetie, honey, sweetheart, or any other terms like that you need to start getting into the habit of not using it at work.
For every reason mentioned above.
13. Avoid Sharing Details of Your Personal Life
Inmates are masters when it comes to manipulation. They don’t need to know your marital status.
They don’t need to know how many kids you have. What you do for fun. And they do not need to see any pictures of your kids.
Many inmates will try to use personal information like that against you in some manner.
It could be as simple as trying to use it to gain your trust. Then next thing you know, things get out of your control.
Another reason for not sharing unnecessary details is because word gets out quickly on the yard.
If you mention you’re getting a divorce, the likelihood is everybody will know and soon.
14. Do Not Go into an Area Alone with an Inmate
This is for very obvious safety reasons
15. Make Sure to Secure all Sharps
Sharp objects like needles, scissors, pens, etc. can be bartered with on the yard.
What this means is most inmates will try to steal them from you if they get a chance.
Be quick to change sharp containers as this can unfortunately be a risk.
16. Be Teachable
I mentioned earlier about the importance of a good preceptor. I stand by that statement.
What I do want to add is that you need to make sure you’re not the problem. You need to show up to work teachable and ready to learn.
17. Don’t Do Favors for Inmates
If it’s not something you would be willing to do for another inmate in a similar situation, it’s probably best to avoid it.
While we’re at it, don’t do anything that involves bringing in contraband.
First of all, it’s against the rules, and you’re potentially putting multiple people at risk.
But also, because eventually, they’re going to use it to blackmail you into doing more things for them.
18. Ask Questions
You know what they say when you assume. Don’t assume. If you don’t know, ask.
Not asking and doing something you’re not sure about is a good way to put people at risk or put yourself in a compromising position.
19. Get A Routine Going
Like all nursing jobs having a routine in place will make the job so much easier for you.
When trying to figure out your routine ask the other more experienced nurses and see what they do and why.
20. Remember This is Not NCLEX World
Nursing school does not prepare you for working in a correctional facility.
The NCLEX tests you on patients only having one disorder. In corrections, your patients are going to have multiple comorbidities.
If you’re a seasoned nurse, then this won’t be as big of a deal.
21. Beware of Nurse Burnout
This is nothing new when it comes to nursing. Many parts of the nursing field are stressful. Let me be the first to tell you that correctional nursing will stress you out.
You’re going to deal with things very few nurses will be able to relate to.
You’re going to deal with patients who not only have a history of causing abuse, but their personal history of abuse and neglect will be so extensive that you might question humanity itself.
Am I being very melodramatic?
Either way, we wrote an article on nurse burnout to get some tips to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
22. Learn to Breath
The last advice we’re going to give you is to breathe. There’s going to be stressful times and stressful moments.
Like any job, your coworkers are going to frustrate you. Inmates are exceptionally good at frustrating staff.
When all else fails, keep your cool. Control your temper.
Remember, you’re still held accountable for being a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse. When all else fails, take a deep breath.
Correctional Nurse Resource
If you’re looking for some resources to help you on your journey as a correctional nurse check out some of these resources.
Hopefully, you found these tips helpful. Being a correctional nurse can be a very rewarding nursing career. You just have to remember safety first.
If you’ve already started working as a correction nurse or even if you haven’t do, you have any tips to share?