The Caring Challenge in Correctional Nursing

Correctional nurses face a daily struggle to care for their patients while delivering much-needed healthcare in a restricted environment where they may also fear for their own personal safety. How can nurses truly care for and care about their inmate patients? This is a question many of us in the specialty grapple with as we try to elevate the professional status of correctional nursing. Caring has been described as the essence of professional nursing practice, therefore we must establish the characteristics of this concept as it is enacted in the criminal justice system.

Weiskopf studied nurses’ experience of caring for inmate patients and discovered a number of limitations in our setting  . The cultures of custody and caring often clash as mentioned in an earlier post. Nurses in this study described the need to negotiate boundaries between these cultures and establish relationship with custody staff in order to be effective. One surprising finding of the study was the extent to which the negative attitudes and behaviors of other nursing staff affected nurses who were attempting to provide compassionate nursing care.

Many nurses working behind bars feel an obligation to care and often struggle to find ways to do this in a hostile environment. Here are some suggested ways nurses enact caring behaviors in corrections:

• Educating patients about their health conditions and self-care principles
• Maintaining a nurse-patient relationship that is within the helpful zone of professional boundaries
• Advocating for the health care needs of a patient when necessary
• Showing compassion and respect
• Presenting a non-judgmental manner
• Listening to what the patient is saying
• Helping patients through a difficult situation

Have you found it difficult to care for patients in the criminal justice system? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Read more about caring in correctional nursing practice in Chapter 2: Ethical Principles for Correctional Nursing from Essentials of Correctional Nursing. Order your copy directly from the publisher

Photo Credit: © Junial Enterprises –

3 thoughts on “The Caring Challenge in Correctional Nursing

  1. Pingback: Celebrating Correctional Nurses during Nurse’s Week: Big Book Giveaway! | Essentials of Correctional Nursing

  2. It is very insightful to know that someone realizes the essence of nursing is caring. Even in a situation with such restriction and uniqueness – showing caring, compassion and respect means a lot to the prisoners and the nurse providing care. It would be beneficial to review the care provided, prisoner requests for medical treatment and complaints as well as care provided by nurses. True the environment comes with its challenges, but when nurses chose to accept the positions, they are fully aware of the environment – or should be. It is only my opinion, and I could be interpreting the rights of the prisoners access to care or to be evaluated by a professional for their complaint, even if no treatment is indicated – I still believe care could be improved. Given the present state of the prisoner population, high prevalence of substance abuse, chronic mental and physical illnesses and aging. It is NOT the job of a nurse to decide who will and will not be evaluated at sick call once their request has been received. Nurses are nurses and doctors serve as doctors in this setting. Neither are judges and should not use prisoners’ charges as a reason to deny them care. At the end of the day we don’t know their circumstances and should remain non-judgmental and each discipline should follow their job descriptions. It is also my opinion that those who agree with the unfair treatment of prisoners and deny them their rights should be subjected to punishment as they are.


  3. Pingback: Caring and Correctional Nursing: Nurse's Week Essay Contest - May 1 Deadline - Correctional Nurse . Net

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