Nurses In Correctional Settings Face Ethical Challenges Unique to the Profession

As recently as 2013, the United States Department of Justice calculated the prison population of the country at over 1.5 million people. Over 31,000 people are in the custody of the Missouri Department of Correction. Meanwhile, over 10,000 are incarcerated in the Kansas Department of Correction. Nurses working in a correctional institution must set aside their personal beliefs about the prisoners, some of whom are serving sentences for ghastly crimes of a violent or sexual nature. In prison, despite controlled environments, a nurse’s own safety is at risk. Nonetheless, nurses must conduct themselves with the highest degree of ethical behavior to provide the requisite level of health care to the incarcerated. Professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger understands the strain under which correctional nurses toil and will provide zealous legal defense for any nurse whose ethics are questioned.

Nurses are a critical component of our health care system. Adherence to the principles of justice, fidelity, veracity, autonomy, beneficence, and nonmaleficence guide the nurse’s actions in providing health care to the sick or injured. A correctional setting can challenge those ideals. While nurses are “bound” by the “Code of Ethics and Interpretative Statements,” they must also balance “the goals of corrections and the incarcerated person’s rights to appropriate health care.” Thus, the nurse must perform a nurse’s duties without regard for who the person is and what the person did. Said another way, the nurse must view and treat the prisoner as a person.  Notwithstanding the adherence to this lofty standard, the correctional nurse is encouraged to maintain “safe boundaries” in the institution for their own protection and well-being.

The corrections environment completely distinguishes correctional nursing from nursing care in a strictly medical environment. In fact, correctional nurses are prohibited from engaging in behavior that is related to a corrections function; their mandate is to treat the inmates’ health concerns and those alone. Consequently, the nurses are prohibited from participating in any function of capital punishment because capital punishment destroys life and the nurses’ goal is to preserve life. Furthermore, the American Nurses Association (ANA) prohibits nurses from assisting in investigations such as body cavity searches and other court-ordered procedures, like lethal injection, which lack any health care benefit and are performed without regard to the patient’s “informed consent.”  Correctional nurses are further prohibited from performing any function relating to discipline of inmates or serving on any penal committees. Although from a corrections and rehabilitation standpoint having a nurse serving on such boards may provide the board valuable insight into the inmate’s health concerns upon re-entry into society, such advisory roles are not permitted according to ANA standards.

The correctional nurse will confront diverse medical issues when treating inmates. Health issues relating to juvenile care; health issues specific to females, including treating pregnant incarcerated females and their children; geriatric and end-of-life care are also some of challenges a corrections nurse may face. Additionally, the corrections nurse will face public health issues, such as communicative diseases, as well as issues related to substance abuse and withdrawal all while endeavoring to follow the ANA Correctional Nurses Standards by incorporating the patient’s cultural preferences in the health care equation. The corrections nurse is also burdened with the ethical obligation of ensuring inmates’ access to health care in the facility. The nurse, when informed of a medical issue, must promptly and properly evaluate the inmate’s health care needs and take the proper course of action. The nurse must engage the inmate, bearing in mind safety concerns, personally to properly assess the level of health care required.  Failing to do so may cause the inmate to file a malpractice lawsuit or file a complaint against the nurse’s license to practice.

Professional Licensing Attorney Assisting Those Who Assist Others

Kansas Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger is dedicated to fighting for professional licensees who are facing an ethical complaint in Kansas or Missouri. Attorney Sanger understands the level of dedication and sacrifice nurses make every moment of their careers. That is why Attorney Sanger will vigorously fight for you to defeat ethical complaints.  Call professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger at 785-979-4353 today for your free consultation.

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