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Keywords:

  • caring;
  • prison nursing;
  • inmate patient;
  • experience;
  • phenomenology

Aim.  The aim of this paper is to report the findings of a study of the experience of caring for prisoners through examining the everyday experience of nurses’ delivering health care to inmate patients in a correctional setting.

Background.  Prisons are most often viewed as places for punishment, while the goals of health and healing, and prevention of diseases in correctional facilities are often neglected. Nurses who deliver health care to prisoners are challenged to do so in a caring relationship that will facilitate their health and healing. The literature on the nature of prison nursing indicates that delivering health care to inmates must be carefully balanced against the need for security, and is affected by factors such as custody staff values, staff education, nursing management, and organizational practices.

Method.  In-depth interviews were carried out with nine Registered Nurses who had been employed in a variety of correctional institutions throughout their careers, and analysed thematically using Colaizzi's phenomenological method.

Findings.  Nurses’ caring was experienced as an attempt to negotiate the boundaries between the cultures of custody and caring. Facing complex challenges and a number of limitations on the nurse–patient relationship, nurses strived to find a way to care for their inmate patients. Environmental risk meant that caution and vigilance were essential and these nurses demonstrated courage and persevered for the sake of their inmate patients.

Conclusion.  The findings make clear the challenging and frustrating experience of nurses’ caring for inmate patients in restrictive settings. As a result, there are implications for nursing practice, education, and research to assure the best possible health outcomes for inmate patients, the integrity of caring nursing practice, and the safety of both nurses and patients.