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MAR 15/2019

Becoming a Prison Nurse

Author Template - Amy Reece

What is a prison nurse?

Nursing is often described as a calling. It is a highly rewarding and challenging career where no two days are ever the same. The roles are varied, but if you consider yourself to be brimming with compassion and the ability to show commitment to others, then it could be just the profession you’ve been yearning for.

In many ways, prison nursing is similar to primary care practice work, requiring nurses to attend to the various needs of a wide variety of vulnerable patients. Traditional nursing skills are required, with obtaining blood samples, treating wounds and performing health screenings amongst the duties prison nurses are expected to perform.

Specialist knowledge tends to be highly valued in this field too, as the concentration of patients needing help for mental health and substance misuse problems is higher within the prison setting. It is this high number of patients in need that provides perhaps the greatest reward for prison nurses. The opportunity to make a difference in the lives of some of society’s most vulnerable people, connect with those who are cut off and help patients recover, both mentally and physically, can be hugely satisfying for nurses. 

Prison nurses are the main connection for patients, and you may find it to be a fulfilling process when you have helped someone in a difficult situation, especially in cases of self-harm. Prison nurses have a great influence on their patients and can easily alter their thought process.

So what are the necessary steps you must take to become a prison nurse?

Prison nurse taking blood from patient

Becoming a prison nurse - The first steps

To become a prison nurse, you will need to be a fully qualified registered general nurse. There are many routes into the nursing profession, so it is important to research your options and seek professional guidance when making this important decision.

Once fully qualified, you will be able to specialise in a particular field, such as prison nursing.

Required skills for prison nursing

As a registered general nurse, you will already be able to thrive under pressure and communicate in a clear and concise manner with patients and fellow members of staff, as well as being flexible and highly organised.

In addition, as you will be working with patients from various social and ethnic backgrounds, you must be able to work free from judgement and demonstrate an ability to handle conflict effectively. Your goal should be to establish a rapport with your patients, regardless of their condition.

Prison nurse bandaging hand of patient

Previous nursing experience

While newly qualified nurses are eligible to take up roles in prison nursing, many employers opt to hire candidates with experience in a particular field of nursing.

In order to improve your chances of securing a prison nursing job, it is preferable that you have previous experience of working in mental health nursing, acute primary care, critical care (A&E nursing), GP surgery nursing or community nursing.

Specialist skills in areas such as substance abuse, diabetic care, sexual health, triage and experience in secure or forensic environments are also looked upon favourably.

Training in one or more of these areas can be achieved through placements or taking on agency nursing jobs, which allow you to widen your skillset in preparation for a prison nursing job. It is worth contacting nursing agencies that have dedicated prison teams, like Medacs Healthcare, who can advise you further on whether your existing specialist skills clients are looking for.


Before you can enter a prison setting to work, you are required to obtain the necessary clearance. This is a process through which those applying for a role within a secure environment are vetted, with various background checks carried out in the interest of security.

Clearance levels differ depending on the category of prison in which you wish to work.

Category D prisons, also referred to as ‘open prisons’, are institutions that exercise a certain degree of trust and house prisoners who are eligible for release on a temporary licence (ROTL) in order to work in the community.

Category B and C prisons, also known as ‘closed prisons’, are designed to hold residents who cannot be trusted in an ‘open’ environment but do not require a maximum-security setting. The clearance process for category D, C and B prisons can be up to two weeks.

Category A prisons, or ‘high-security prisons’, are also classified as ‘closed prisons’ and hold prisoners who are extremely dangerous to the public or national security. Clearance for category A prisons is extensive and can take up to six months to complete.

Prison nurse administering injection

Looking for prison nursing jobs

A prison nurse can be employed either by the NHS, an organisation providing prison healthcare services, a nursing agency or directly by the prison service. For nurses who are undecided about prison nursing, some nursing agencies and employers offer you the chance to shadow prison nurses, almost in a ‘try before you buy’ type scenario. This will give you a chance to experience what life is like as a prison nurse before you commit to a change in career.

There are many other benefits to doing prison nursing agency work, including the ability to select shift patterns that suit your lifestyle, either on a full or part-time basis.

Nursing agencies are able to match you with the right prison nursing roles, while some even help you gain the general clearance required by many prisons in England and Wales, with training and development available while you wait.

Find out more

To learn more about what to expect as a prison nurse, enquire about our prison nursing opportunities or discover more about the support we can offer you, please contact us directly via email: or call 0800 442 207 during office hours. Alternatively, please complete the form below:

*This post was originally published on 01/08/2013 and has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


Read more in the prison nursing series:

Four Myths Surrounding Prison Nursing

What to Expect from a Career in Prison Nursing

How to Develop Your Career in Prison Nursing

The Reality of Working as a Mental Health Nurse in Prison

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