Is Working as a Correctional Nurse Practitioner Safe?

Is anyone else watching Orange Is the New Black on Netflix? The show takes place in a women’s prison chronicling the fictional lives of women behind bars. Having never walked through the doors of a prison myself, my misconceptions I’m sure are many. One thing that takes me by surprise while watching the show is the casual nature with which guards and inmates interact. Rarely are there shackles present, but rather inmates roam about the facility, hands free, going about their daily routines. 

Of course, I can’t base my perception of prison based on a TV series, but watching the show caused me to wonder about the safety of nurse practitioners and other healthcare workers employed in correctional facilities. Correctional medicine is a big field and often offers favorable work schedules, pay and benefits. What’s the risk to nurse practitioners considering these opportunities?

I wasn’t able to unearth any hard stats about the safety of nurse practitioners working behind bars. But, several incidents of violence against healthcare workers in correctional facilities have been reported. In Philadelphia, a prison nurse was attacked by an inmate attempting to escape this year. In 2013, a nurse was attacked inside a Saginaw, Michigan jail, the incident caught on tape and posted to YouTube. 

While working as a nurse practitioner in a correctional facility seems like it would be inherently dangerous, healthcare workers employed in prisons report that they generally feel safe on the job. In fact some say they feel even safer working behind bars than outside of them. In jails and prisons, it’s no secret who the ‘bad guys’ are and the system is set up accordingly. In some settings guards accompany healthcare workers at all times. In other cases panic buttons carried by healthcare workers summon immediate assistance from a throng of correctional officers. 

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Given that violence against nurses and healthcare workers is so prevalent in the traditional hospital setting, working in a correctional facility may not carry any additional risk. According to the International Council of Nurses, health care providers are at greater risk of being attacked on the job than police officers and prison guards. In a 2014 survey, almost 80 percent of nurses reported being attacked on the job. Healthcare workers experience the most non-fatal workplace violence compared to other professions accounting for nearly 70 percent of all nonfatal workplace assaults according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Provided that you follow protocol and take a few additional precautions, correctional nurse practitioners report the job is safe. Using street smarts like never turning your back on an inmate is a must. If you’re an NP looking for a change of scenery, a career in correctional medicine just might be the place for you. 

Do you work in correctional medicine? Do you feel safe?


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4 thoughts on “Is Working as a Correctional Nurse Practitioner Safe?”

  1. I have work over 15 years in corrections. First as a Registered Nurse and now as a Nurse Practitioner. I never worry about my safety, I have correctional officers at all times with me. Safety is always a concern but I do feel safer there than in private practice.

  2. I work in several correctional facilities as a nurse practitioner and I feel safer worker there than I did as a RN working in the ER

  3. I am about to start in one. It seems like it would be far safer than the ER. In ICU where I worked as an RN a nurse got strangled with IV tubing by a neuro pt. It happens constantly in healthcare. At least in prison you know to be careful at all times.

  4. I have heard the ER to be dangerous at times. I was told by a nurse she was punch in the face by a patient while doing an assessment. She stated, she didn’t see it coming. Her story made me rethink about going into nursing.

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