Correctional Nursing is a rewarding career that is often overlooked. Also referred to as Custodial Nursing and Prison Nursing, Correctional Nursing is not an area of focus in most nursing courses, however it is an area of nursing that deserves more attention.

Working as a Correctional Nurse is not for the faint hearted. Correctional Nurses come from all backgrounds and have a broad range of skills and experience, but most of all they have a passion for patient care and quality outcomes. As a Correctional Nurse you will have the opportunity to work autonomously in a unique healthcare environment and develop a diverse range of nursing skills in areas such as health prevention and promotion, mental health, emergency care and acute management – just to name a few. The most rewarding part of the job though, is working with vulnerable cohorts where your nursing care and the care provided by the multidisciplinary team really does make a difference.

A career in Correctional Nursing is perfect for nurses who want to develop their nursing career outside hospital walls in a rewarding and unique area of the healthcare industry. The correctional health sector is growing and so are opportunities for Correctional Nurses. As the demand for Correctional Nurses outstrips supply, there has never been a better time to take the plunge and start your career in Correctional Nursing.

A Brief History

Correctional health is not a new phenomenon. For centuries correctional health services have been provided in some form or another. Today, the provision and extent of correctional healthcare services differs between jurisdictions.

Below is a little bit of history regarding correctional health in its earliest form and where we are today.


Louis-René Villermé, was a French economist and physician, who is known for his publications on the unhealthy conditions of prisons in Paris. Villereme’s publications brought attention to the unhealthy conditions and treatment of prisoners. The publications encouraged a review of the prison system and highlighted the need for prison reform.


Correctional health in Australia dates back to 1839, when the Sisters of Charity first began visiting female convicts incarcerated in the Female Factory, a female prison at Parramatta, to provide religious instruction and care of the sick poor (Sisters of Charity 2020).

Victorian England

In the United Kingdom, John Howard a philanthropist and early English prison reformer is believed to have promoted health reforms in the Victorian prison system following his incarceration. This resulted in the introduction of basic healthcare for prisoners.


Member States of the United Nations (UN) comply with the ‘Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners’ that were developed in 1990 by the UN.

Principle 9 states:

[su_quote]“Prisoners shall have access to the health services available in the country without discrimination on the grounds of their legal situation”.[/su_quote]


Countries such as the Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom provide prisoners with universal healthcare, which is based on the premise of community equivalence. The World Health Organisation (2020) defines Universal Health as ensuring that all people have access to needed health services (including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation) of sufficient quality to be effective while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user the financial hardship.

What is Correctional Nursing?

Correctional Nursing is the nursing specialty in which nurses provide healthcare to people incarcerated in correctional settings such as jails, prisons, remand centres and juvenile detention centres. Despite the rhetoric of correctional settings being scary places, Correctional Nurses generally feel safe working in the correctional health environment. Due to the diversity of the role, nurses working in the correctional setting develop strong clinical skills and come from varied and wide backgrounds.

The health status of people in custody is behind the general population in every health indicator including infectious diseases, chronic conditions such as respiratory and heart conditions, intellectual disabilities and addiction. For many people in custody, it is the first time they’ve ever received regular medical attention. As such, Correctional Nurses play a pivotal role in improving the health status of this vulnerable population.

Correctional Nurses work to:

  • Provide health services that are equivalent to what is provided in the country as a whole;
  • Reduce health risks to a minimum; and
  • Ensure that the dignity and human rights of people in custody are respected.

Correctional health settings are often described as being a little like an emergency department crossed with a general practice. Correctional Nurses deal with a comprehensive range of health needs and provide a variety of nursing services including:

  • Conducting health assessments, including mental health assessments
  • Alcohol and drug treatment
  • Mental health treatment
  • Emergency care
  • Nurse-led clinics, including speciality clinics such as wound care
  • Health promotion and prevention activities
  • Providing immunisations
  • Medication management
  • Chronic disease management
  • Pathology collection
  • Discharge planning

Correctional Nurses work as part of a multidisciplinary health team that includes General Practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, mental health professionals, allied health professionals, administrative and managerial staff.

Good communication skills and the ability to foster collaborative relationships is a must in correctional health. Working closely with correctional officers is a key element in the role of the Correctional Nurse. Correctional Nurses work closely with correctional officers (also referred to a prison officers or prison guards) to ensure:

  • The successful delivery of patient care
  • That emergency situations are managed accordingly
  • That the health and safety of healthcare staff and patients is always maintained

Where do you find Correctional Nurses?

Correctional Nurses work with people incarcerated in correctional settings.

Correctional Nurses come from varied and wide backgrounds and are passionate about delivering a high standard of patient care. Correctional Nurses need to have a great deal of respect, compassion and understanding as they work with patients from all walks of life, including people who have committed or have been accused of committing crimes.

Nurses working in correctional settings come from diverse nursing backgrounds including:

  • Mental health and psychiatric facilities
  • Acute environments such as emergency departments and intensive care units
  • Primary health services, including general practice
  • Subacute wards
  • Aged care facilities
  • Infectious diseases
  • The military


Depending on where you are in the world, the salary for Correctional Nurses may differ. The salary also differs depending on if you are qualified as a general nurse, a qualified mental health nurse or if you hold dual general and mental health nursing qualifications and/or training.


The average Registered Nurse salary in Australia is in excess of AUD $70,000 annually (Neuvoo 2020), however Registered Division One Nurses working fulltime in the correctional sector can earn up to $100,000 annually. To work as a nurse in Australia, nurses must be a registered nurse with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).


According to Workopolis (2020) nurses working fulltime in Correctional Nursing in Canada can earn a median salary of CAD $68,000. Nurses must be registered in Canada as a Registered Nurse with the relevant jurisdictions College of Nurses.

New Zealand

Correctional Nurses in New Zealand can enjoy a salary of between NZ $55,000 and $78,000 (Department of Corrections 2020). To work as a nurse in New Zealand you must be registered with the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

United Kingdom

The average Correctional Nurse salary in the United Kingdom is in excess of £43,000 (Adzuna 2020). To work as a nurse in the United Kingdom you must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, who are the nursing and midwifery regulator for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

United States

In the United States a nurse working fulltime in Correctional Nursing can expect to earn in excess of USD $70,000 annually (ZipRecruiter 2020). To work as a nurse in the United States, nurses must have a current RN License in the relevant State.

How to become a Correctional Nurse

To become a Correctional Nurse, you will need to:

  • be a Registered Nurse with the relevant registration body in the State or Country you wish to work in

In addition, if you wish to work as a Mental Health / Psychiatric Nurse within a correctional setting, then you will need registration as a Mental Health Nurse or hold a postgraduate qualification in Mental Health Nursing or equivalent.

  • have at least one year of postgraduate nursing experience in an acute or primary health

The experience is dependent on the requirements of the employer. Generally, at least one year of postgraduate nursing experience in an acute or primary health setting is required. Previous Correctional Nursing is also desired.

  • be available to work shift work

Depending on the facility you wish to work in, you will be required to work a mixture of AM, PM, Night Duty shifts along with regular weekends. However, some correctional facilities only provide nursing services during business hours.

Postgraduate qualifications

Education providers around the world offer postgraduate qualifications in a variety of nursing specialties. Postgraduate qualifications in Emergency Nursing or Primary Health will help you in your endeavours as a Correctional Nurse.

In Term 1 2020, CQUniversity began offering the Graduate Certificate in Correctional Nursing. This is the only postgraduate qualification of its kind in Australia (CQUniversity 2019).

Final Thoughts

The need for Correctional Nurses continues to grow. As long as people continue to be incarcerated the demand for Correctional Nurses will remain. Correctional Nursing can be a fulfilling and rewarding career path that provides nurses with the opportunity to make a genuine impact on the lives of vulnerable people.

If you are considering a career in Correctional Nursing, why not take the plunge and give it a try?


  1. Adzuna. Prison nurse salary stats. 2020<>
  2.  CQUniversity. Correctional nursing key to prison health care. 2019<>
  3.  Department of Corrections, New Zealand. Nurse. 2020.<>
  4.  Neuvoo. Registered Nurse salary in Australia. 2020<>
  5.  Sisters of Charity of Australia. Our History. 2020<>
  6.  United Nations. Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners’. 1990<>
  7.  “Villerme on prisons”. The Quarterly Journal of Foreign Medicine and Surgery and of the Sciences Connected with Them. 2: 302–317. 1820.
  8.  Workopolis. 2020<>
  9.  World Health Organization (WHO). Universal health coverage. 2020<>
  10.  ZipRecruiter. Correctional Nurse Salary. 2020<>


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