Contraband: Health or Security Issue? Part III

This month the Essentials of Correctional Nursing blog welcomes Gayle F. Burrow RN, BSN, MPH, CCHP-RN, Correctional Health Care Consultant from Portland, OR, to the blogging team. Gayle will share insights from her many years of jail nursing experience in a regular monthly rotation with ECN bloggers Catherine Knox and Lorry Schoenly.

The daily work in corrections health, whether a jail, prison or juvenile facility, easily becomes routine. Concerns for personal safety and facility security can fade as reliance is placed on standard operating procedures, custody colleagues, and our own growing familiarity with the criminal justice system. When this happens our safety can be threatened a couple ways. For correctional nurses, this can happen when someone becomes overfamiliar with a patient or when an inmate has been able to manipulate a staff member to bring drugs into the facility.

A news item reporting that a correctional staff member has assisted an inmate to escape from a facility can lead to a reaction like “How in the world could this happen?” Unfortunately, it does happen; even with good orientation, teamwork and communications.  Inmates have persuasive skills that they learned on the streets and staff member may be going through a difficult, vulnerable life situation. This can be a dangerous combination.

Objects and Relationship Contraband

The book “Games Criminal Play” was helpful to me when I entered the correctional nursing specialty many years ago. Although published in the 1980’s, the principles for dealing with inmate manipulation are timeless and remain helpful today. One key principle is that criminals have a manipulation process so subtle that victims rarely realize what is happening until it is too late. That is why it is important for us to be ever-vigilant in avoiding manipulation traps in our nurse-patient interactions. Here are some actual examples of inappropriate staff activities:

  • Forming a relationship while in the jail leading to the patient moving in with the staff member after release
  • Living with a drug dealer and passing on information to inmates
  • Putting money on an inmates books
  • Not reporting when a family member is in custody

Professionalism and Boundaries

Maintaining professional boundaries with patients is safe practice. Contraband can include not only sharp objects but also information, money and personal relationships. By being a skilled health practitioner, sensitive team member and grounded in yourself, you can deliver good health care while avoiding contraband participation.

To read more about the area of safety for the nurse and patient in correctional settings see Chapter 4 sections on contraband, medical contraband and professional boundaries in the Essentials of Correctional Nursing. You can order a copy directly from the publisher or from Amazon today!

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