Myths About Prison Healthcare

Posted on: March 17, 2022

written by

Renee Dahring, NP

Have you ever considered taking an assignment to work in a correctional facility, but then had some doubts that caused you to dismiss the opportunity?

Let’s be honest, working in prison healthcare hasn’t always received much publicity and the little publicity it does receive tends to be negative. A quick internet search will turn up all sorts of stories and opinions on prisoner healthcare, and if you don’t have any firsthand experience “behind bars” it’s hard to know exactly what to believe.

I have worked for almost 20 years providing medical treatment in prisons and jails of all sizes, so I am going to take this opportunity to discuss three of the top myths you are likely to hear about providing healthcare in correctional facilities.

Myth #1. Prisoners don’t receive healthcare while they are incarcerated.

Nothing is further from the truth, in fact prisoners are the only group of individuals for whom receiving medical care is a civil right. Yes, in the 1970’s the supreme court ruled that correctional facilities have a constitutional obligation to provide medical care to prisoners.

Today, not only is medical and mental health care provided, there are national and local correctional health organizations which have developed standards of care, provide accreditation for correctional facilities, and offer certification in correctional healthcare for providers. Most states also have statutes establishing the right to healthcare for prisoners as well.

Myth #2. Working in a jail or prison is boring, and I will lose my skills.

I admit that prior to working in corrections, I wondered what in the world I would do all day. The image I had was of healthy, muscular, young men who spent their days lifting weights in the prison yard and, other than the occasional cough or cold, I couldn’t imagine what services they could possibly need from me.

Well, that myth was quickly dispelled. As a nurse colleague of mine liked to say: “Anyone can get arrested”. Prisoners suffer from the same chronic conditions and acute problems that you see in the community.

Diabetes and high blood pressure don’t go away at booking. Neither does cancer or any other condition that afflicts human beings.

Caring for prisoners demands a high level of skill and will hone your critical thinking. Jails don’t have lab, X-ray and specialists at our fingertips, so we must develop sharp assessment skills. Our patients are some of the most complex and challenging, they often come to us with conditions that have gone untreated for years. Substance use and mental illness complicate almost every health problem we encounter.

Myth #3. Healthcare professionals work in corrections because they are unable to get a job anywhere else.

This is one of the most inaccurate myths around. Working in corrections is a CHOICE. Many providers leave busy practices in the community to work in corrections for a variety of reasons, not because they lack other job offers. Caring for an underserved population where you can truly make a difference brings great personal satisfaction.

Correctional work assignments don’t include hospital rounds and after hours call, so providers come to corrections because they want to achieve a better work-life balance. And, no longer having to deal with insurers and mountains of paperwork is a perk that cannot be overstated.

Next time you ponder an assignment in corrections, I hope this information will enable you to look beyond the myths and focus instead on the many positive aspects of providing care to prisoners. As a provider in corrections, you can provide much needed services and fully utilize all your skills and talents. You will enjoy working in an environment with other talented clinicians, while also experiencing a more manageable work schedule.

And did I mention no insurance paperwork? Going to jail might just turn out to be the best decision you ever made.

Ready to begin your locum tenens career with Barton Associates? Take a look at our open jobs or fill out our contact form and one of our representatives will reach out to you!

About Renee Dahring, NP

Renee Dahring, NP, has worked as a family nurse practitioner in the prison and jail system since 2001. In addition to her clinical practice, she helped build and grow a successful staffing company in Minnesota and teaches nursing as adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota. Dahring also writes a blog with career and job search tips for Advance for NPs and PAs, and manages a website that offers career advice at

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