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Nursing in Canada's Correctional System

Nurses are the primary health-care providers for federal offenders. They work in clinics located in correctional institutions and their role, according to Correctional Service Canada, is to provide “every inmate with essential health care and reasonable access to non-essential mental health care.” Nurses therefore have an important role in the inmate’s rehabilitation and successful reintegration into the community.

What do nurses need to provide safe, respectful and responsive care in Canada’s correctional system?

  • Supportive interprofessional teams: Helps nurses create a safe and healthy environment for people in correctional facilities as well as for nurses themselves
  • Ability to develop therapeutic relationships: An essential element to nursing practice and fosters the delivery of equitable treatment for each person they encounter
  • Ongoing education and training: Ensures nurses can continue to meet the complex needs of this unique population including:
    • infectious disease prevention and control
    • substance use programs
    • suicide prevention
    • discharge care planning
    • mental health interventions

Incarceration and the social determinants of health

A disproportionate number of people who are incarcerated face a multitude of health barriers compared with the general population. People in correctional facilities frequently suffer from multiple chronic conditions and poor health. This is often intensified by difficult histories that frequently include trauma and substance use issues. Certain populations are also over-represented in correctional facilities, including Indigenous people and other racialized groups. This creates a unique need for autonomous nursing care to promote health and wellness.

Ethical challenges for Nurses in corrections

Providing the best care for people in the correctional system can be fraught with difficulties. Due to the security requirements and disciplinary atmosphere, it is often difficult for nurses to develop the same therapeutic relationship as in other practice settings.

Providing care that is equivalent to what would be received outside of a correctional facility is also problematic. Access to health care is a frequent complaint in the correctional system, as there is often a lack of resources and health-care professionals.

Mental health in the correctional system

Mental health issues and substance use are major concerns in correctional facilities. To be able to provide reasonable care, nurses need the resources not only to provide equitable, socially just care to individuals in corrections, but to facilitate continuity of care into the community to help them successfully re-enter society.

Learn more . . .

Focus on Harm Reduction for Injection Drug Use in Canadian Prisons: A supplement to CNA’s Harm Reduction Discussion Paper [PDF, 216.3 KB]

Canadian Nurse feature article, Caring in Corrections

Correctional Service Canada and its legislative mandate to deliver health services