The Role of Forensic Nursing in the Penal System


The use of unnecessary force is not unheard of in the penal system, nor is the use of coercion, psychological torture, and neglect. I begin to see the importance of the nurse in trying to safeguard the health and safety of prisoners, regardless of their crime.

The forensic nurse in the penal system is in an ideal position to assess and evaluate the prisoner, the people who work in the system, and the protocols to maintain the system. Poor assessment and treatment and or misdiagnosis was made real to me. The fitness of a prisoner and their ability to safeguard themselves is of utmost importance when dealing with mental health, metabolic conditions, injuries, and cognitive ability.

There is also the matter of the real threat of disease. One of my misguided preconceptions was that the penal system posed a very real and dangerous threat to the safety of the healthcare professional. While this is true, my misconception resided in the belief that these diseases were “rampant”. It is through forensic science that well defined protocols are in place for the interactions and handling of persons and items which may be infected, decreasing the risk of transmitting any biologicals to self and others.

I’m not sure how much of my thoughts and beliefs are influenced by television and movies, but I think documenting and reporting as a neutral party is difficult when heinous crimes are involved, but nursing in general is ideally non judgmental. In forensic nursing it becomes the task of the nurse to maintain this objectivity, regardless of the outcome. The ability of the forensic nurse to be an advocate for the alleged, or convicted accuser is one I admire.

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