Media Releases

U of T research shows workplace relationships are challenging for nurses working in prisons

November 25, 2010

TORONTO, ON – Health care needs versus security demands: What takes priority?  Balancing security needs and health care services may not be the going concern of your average nurse, but the role of the correctional nurse is anything but average. Health care in provincial correctional institutions is a unique combination of all types of nursing.

Approximately 500 nurses work in Ontario’s provincial correctional system caring for almost 9,000 people, yet, until now, the role of the correctional nurse had not been comprehensively studied in Canada. “Understanding the perspectives correctional nurses have on healthcare for inmate patients and the impact of providing that care in this non-traditional setting is critical to providing appropriate support,” said Linda Ogilvie, Manager of Corporate Health Care, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

The U of T Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing study, Exploring Worklife Issues in Provincial Correctional Settings, led by Dr. Joan Almost and Dr. Diane Doran, identified a number of key issues that differentiates nursing in correctional settings from other sectors. “Meeting the nurses who work in these settings and seeing their passion, touring some of the facilities and then analyzing our data has given me an appreciation for the challenging work environments that these nurses have,” said Dr. Almost.

To work in this sector, nurses need to have strong assessment skills and the ability to interact professionally with a challenging clientele. Compared to other sectors, correctional nurses encounter more conflict in the workplace with the strain of emotional abuse from inmates, leading to higher levels of job dissatisfaction and feelings of depersonalization.

On the other hand, only 4% of the study participants have experienced physical abuse from inmate patients, less than the general nursing population. Compared to nurses in acute care, nurses in correctional settings also indicate a slightly higher intent to stay in their current positions and lower level of emotional exhaustion.  These findings suggest that in spite of complex health needs in correctional settings, for certain individuals, this environment may be ultimately more rewarding.

“Through their relentless efforts to establish therapeutic relationships with inmates and daily use of innovation in their practice, nurses are shaping the face of health care in Ontario’s correctional facilities,” said Dr. Vanessa Burkoski, Provincial Chief Nursing Office, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, “Recognizing the unique circumstances in which Ontario’s correctional nurses practice and the valuable contribution that they make in providing access to health care, the Nursing Secretariat was very pleased to fund this study.”  Dr. Doran concludes “This study shows that interventions specific to the correctional work environment are needed to increase job satisfaction and reduce burnout, in order to attract recruits and increase the capacity of nurses currently in this sector.”

“Nursing in corrections is extremely demanding and challenging but very rewarding… if given the proper resources, the opportunity is there to really teach, influence and care for a population of people that really needs us and do appreciate us.”

“I love my job! What I do affects my clients, their families and the public at large.”

“Every moment is different. It’s a very fast paced, ever changing environment, demanding… people don’t see what nurses do in correctional settings. They don’t realize we have acute patients just like they do in a hospital. We do most of the same treatments that a hospital nurse would do.”

“Working in correctional nursing is an ongoing challenge. It is a constant battle between health care needs versus security concerns. It is often difficult to hire and retain nurses because of the pay scale.”

“While not as physically demanding as working in a hospital, working in a jail is mentally exhausting.”


For more information, please contact:

Joan Almost
Co-Principal Investigator Exploring Worklife Issues in Provincial Correctional Settings Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, is available to expand and elaborate on the findings in this study.
416 -978-4567