• 23 July 2020
  • 8 min read

20 Most Important Tips For New Prison Nurses

  • Laura Woods
    Nurse Consultant Forensic Health Care Services
    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Jennifer Hope
  • 0
  • 887
"Working in a Prison is not only a steep learning curve but it is also hugely enjoyable and rewarding both professionally and personally."

Tip 9: Remember, prisoners are YOUR patients. Former Prison Nurse, Laura, gives an exhaustive run down of tips for Nurses beginning a career in Prison.

Topics covered in this article

Introduction

Tip 1: Chose Comfy Footwear!

Tip 2: Be Aware It Can Take Months For Your Prison Clearance To Come Through

Tip 3: Know What You Can And Cannot Take Inside!

Tip 4: Wear A Watch

Tip 5: Remember That Things Can Take A Lot Longer In The Prison Estate

Tip 6: The Delivery Of Healthcare Is Reliant At Times On The Prison Regime

Tip 7: Build Working Relationships With Prison Staff

Tip 8: Working In A Prison Is Not Scary

Tip 9: Remember, Prisoners Are Your Patients

Tip 10: Be Careful Not To Blur Your Professional Friendliness With Being “Conditioned” By Prisoners

Tip 11: No One Working In A Prison Is Immune From The Potential Impact Of The Prison Culture And Environment

Tip 12: This May Seem Like An Obvious Point To Make But Be Honest And Transparent With Prisoners

Tip 13: Language. Be Prepared To Widen Your Vocabulary

Tip 14: Pace Yourself

Tip 15: Don't Be Shy

Tip 16: Communication In Prisons Is Via Radios

Tip 17: The Prison Population Has Very High Rates Of Mental Illness, Poor Physical Health And Complex Needs

Tip 18: Resourcefulness

Tip 19: Always carry Gloves

Tip 20: Enjoy Yourself

Introduction

What to wear?

What can I take inside?

Will I be in danger?

Starting a job as a nurse in a prison can feel daunting.

Having worked in prisons across the county over the last few years I will try and give any nurse new to working in this environment some important tips!

Tip 1: Chose Comfy Footwear!

May seem like a silly one but I regularly walked over 10,000 steps a day in the prison.

I actually asked what shoes I should wear at my interview because I didn’t want to stick out as a new staff member.

I opted for a comfy pair of black trainers or worn in Doc Marten boots!

Tip 2: Be Aware It Can Take Months For Your Prison Clearance To Come Through

After an interview you will hopefully be offered a job but it is important to wait to hand your notice in to your previous employer.

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Some people’s clearance can take many months and you need to ensure you don’t have a break in service if working for the NHS.

Tip 3: Know What You Can And Cannot Take Inside!

We are so used to having our phones on us constantly, but all mobile phones are banned from prisons.

I had relied on my phone as a diary, so I had to invest in a decent notebook and diary to put dates in.

Other items banned are chewing gum, tobacco products, lighters, certain sharp objects, any alcohol products and any recording devices.

Avoid the embarrassment of arriving at reception and having to empty the entire contents of your bag to place items in lockers.

Tip 4: Wear A Watch

Again, with no phone if you are not wearing a watch its tricky to keep track of time.

The prison environment can feel isolated and I would sometimes feel locked away with the prisoners.

If it was a particularly busy shift, I would suddenly walk outside and realise it was much later than I thought.

Tip 5: Remember That Things Can Take A Lot Longer In The Prison Estate

If your shift starts at 7am it may take you ten minutes to get through the gate so arrive early.

This also applies when ending your day.

I would try and finish my clinical work with plenty of time left of the shift and included the time it may take to get out the gate.

Tip 6: The Delivery Of Healthcare Is Reliant At Times On The Prison Regime

This can impact how effectively even standard interventions are offered.

Familiarise yourself with the timings of the prison routine so that you can manage your patient contact.

Most prisons for example enter “patrol” state at lunch time and at night, which means every prisoner is locked in their cells.

It is impossible to provide anything other than emergency nursing care during these times.

Tip 7: Build Working Relationships With Prison Staff

Prison staff have different management structures from Officers, Custody Managers and Governors of departments.

It is important for NHS staff to work in collaboration with, rather than against prison staff in order to offer patients and prisoners the best care.

Tip 8: Working In A Prison Is Not Scary

I remember telling my friends and family I was going to work in a male prison.

Without exception everyone said “oh be careful” or “isn’t that dangerous?”.

As a nurse I felt safe during my work.

There are always prison staff around and I soon realised that the majority of prisoners are focusing on completing their sentences and staying out of trouble!

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I didn’t become de-sensitised to the noise or the business of a male prison, but I got used to the hustle and bustle.

There were times when I encountered violence and aggression, verbal hostility and distressing scenes but in comparison to A&E departments or busy mental health units the prison is no worse.

Tip 9: Remember, Prisoners Are Your Patients

As Nurse’s our job is to care for our patients and adhere to our NMC code of practice.

Whatever the setting, patients deserve the best, most appropriate and effective treatment and prisons are no different.

Tip 10: Be Careful Not To Blur Your Professional Friendliness With Being “Conditioned” By Prisoners

Conditioning means the way in which some prisoners may effectively “use” your professional helpfulness to their advantage over the long term.

For example, asking for certain innocuous favours like a plaster or some paracetamol to “get you on side”.

It is so important therefore to ensure you check with Officers, use supervision and reflective practice with colleagues to maintain boundaries.

Tip 11: No One Working In A Prison Is Immune From The Potential Impact Of The Prison Culture And Environment

As a new Prison Nurse, it is vital to engage in supervision and training sessions so that you can reflect on your own wellbeing.

By their very nature, prisons are oppressive.

As a nurse it is easy to absorb some of the negativity or frustrations expressed by prisoners or staff.

Keep reflective, insightful and use the support systems available to you.

Tip 12: This May Seem Like An Obvious Point To Make But Be Honest And Transparent With Prisoners

It can be tempting to overcommit as our natural tendencies as Nurses are to help, however it is important to be realistic in this very busy environment.

Don’t say you will return later in the day if you can’t and don’t promise appointments which are not available.

For those incarcerated in prison, life can become very small and events like a nurse not returning when they said they would or not getting a GP appointment can trigger big emotional responses.

Tip 13: Language. Be Prepared To Widen Your Vocabulary

After your first week you will know what I mean.

As well as a whole new colourful vocabulary you will also become familiar with acronyms and abbreviations.

Tip 14: Pace Yourself

The working day can be long and relentless.

I quickly discovered that prison staff are excellent at being disciplined with their breaks unlike us Nurses!

Most prison staff will leave the prison grounds for their lunch break or use the onsite gym.

I found it so important to take my breaks and get some time outside of the prison.

Tip 15: Don't Be Shy

You need to be able to command respect and be heard.

It can feel dauting when you first start walking onto a wing with over 180 prisoners out of their cells.

I built confidence in walking through the wings and became accustomed to the noise, smells and sites.

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What do YOU think?

Let me know your thoughts in the Comments & click Like!

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Look and learn from your nursing colleagues and also speak to prison staff and prisoners.

An important tip is ensuring the wing officers know you are on the wing so go straight to the staff office and introduce yourself.

Tip 16: Communication In Prisons Is Via Radios

This can feel embarrassing and anxiety provoking when you start.

Trust me you will get used to it.

When I first signed on, I would have to go into a room on my own, so no one heard me!

Healthcare staff are assigned radios so they can respond to emergency calls and hear where in the prison incidents are taking place.

Tip 17: The Prison Population Has Very High Rates Of Mental Illness, Poor Physical Health And Complex Needs

Most of the prisoners you will meet haven’t seen a GP in years.

Unpicking a history and identifying problems is a job that requires patience, tenacity and assertiveness.

Tip 18: Resourcefulness

You'll need this in abundance.

The daily nursing tasks in a prison range from clinics, medications, arrival health screens, supporting GP appointments, responding to emergency incidents, triaging referrals and a lot of request from prison staff for “healthcare”.

Prioritising and juggling all of the tasks is a skill you will learn quickly.

Try and maintain your professional integrity and do not be swayed by prison officers, you know as a nurse what is an emergency and what isn’t.

Tip 19: Always carry Gloves

Enough said.

Tip 20: Enjoy Yourself

Working in a Prison is not only a steep learning curve but it is also hugely enjoyable and rewarding both professionally and personally.

There are of course also a lot of laughs on the way.

Let me know in the comments your thoughts on my tips and any advice you have for new Prison Nurses  - let's chat there!

Oh, and please Like this article to let me know you enjoyed it - thank you!

About the author

  • Laura Woods
    Nurse Consultant Forensic Health Care Services

Registered Mental Health Nurse with 11 years experience. Worked in Psychiatric Intensive Care for 8 years. Moved to a Nurse Manager role within the prison service. Gained a MSc in Clinical Forensic Psychiatry then worked as a Matron within the prison service and secure forensic mental health hospital. I’m now a Nurse Consultant for Forensic Mental health, am a non-medical independent prescriber. Currently training to be an Approved Clinician

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  • Laura Woods
    Nurse Consultant Forensic Health Care Services

About the author

  • Laura Woods
    Nurse Consultant Forensic Health Care Services

Registered Mental Health Nurse with 11 years experience. Worked in Psychiatric Intensive Care for 8 years. Moved to a Nurse Manager role within the prison service. Gained a MSc in Clinical Forensic Psychiatry then worked as a Matron within the prison service and secure forensic mental health hospital. I’m now a Nurse Consultant for Forensic Mental health, am a non-medical independent prescriber. Currently training to be an Approved Clinician

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