Making a Difference in the Criminal Justice System
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Making a Difference in the Criminal Justice System

An Alternative Career Path for Nurses

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Making a Difference in the Criminal Justice System
Falkenpost/ Pixabay

On a rainy September 2018 afternoon outside of Connecticut's Hartford Correctional Center, union leader Rebecca Simonsen mobilized with fellow members. The group was gathered to protest the systemic misconduct that has led to many inmate deaths.

The protesting prison personnel expressed to reporters that conditions in the facility's medical unit are akin to a war zone, where the quality of inmate healthcare services are deplorable and unsatisfactorily subpar compared to the treatments provided to the general public.
Statewide, Connecticut's prison system is operating 120 staff members short of requisite medical personnel, according to Simonsen. The commissioner has retorted that the state is currently working to fill 70 positions, as well as the fact that he's unclear of how union representatives determined that there are 120 vacancies.


What's the Solution for a Broken System?


In a closed correctional facility, the spread of infection could be disastrous. Exacerbating this issue, the correctional nursing shortage is necessitating exorbitant over time.


Although the Connecticut Department of Corrections may have done so unintentionally, the agency has bolstered union members' sentiments. The corrections department has highlighted 25 medical errors that have resulted in 8 inmate deaths for which state prison facilities will likely face lawsuits, but the agency has declined to publicize the details of the cases. The protesters are hoping that their rally will, however, draw more attention to these problems.


In February 2018 the Connecticut Department of Corrections terminated its ongoing arrangements with healthcare providers. The department then took over responsibility for inmate health services. According to local 1199 Service Employees International Union officials, the 120 staff member vacancies existed even before the transition, and during the transfer, the state slashed the prison healthcare budget by $8 million.


Resultantly, the provider shortages across the state's prison system are severe. Cheshire Correctional Institution, for example, makes do with one physician to service 1,500 inmates.


A Noble Attempt to Fix the Problem -- That's Failing


One school that's working to resolve the United States medical talent pool gap is the New York University School of Medicine. The institution has waived tuition for all current and future students. School officials hope that this will help to resolve America's physician shortage.


Dean Robert Grossman believes that more people will pursue a career in medicine now that the prospect of a massive and lingering tuition fee has been eliminated. Ideally, expresses the dean, these graduates will set up practice in underserved areas after advancement. Pundits, however, doubt that this will happen.


For starters, state skeptics, student debt is not a concern for most of the nation's future doctors. Additionally, most advancing physicians return to familiar environments or seek work settings with the latest medical innovations when setting up practice and accepting employment. Moreover, most medical students come from wealthy, urban communities; only one in 20 physician hopefuls originate from low-income households, while more than half of all medical students are from affluent families, and an infinitesimal number of medical students are from rural areas.

The skeptics do agree that the waived tuition may encourage more low-income learners to pursue physician training, but that this initiative will hardly serve to incentivize students from wealthy households, say analysts. Furthermore, state the naysayers, free tuition will not magically equip learners from low-income households with the skills and knowledge needed to qualify for entrance into medical school.


Another Side of Criminal Justice Nursing


United States statistics that measure violent incidents are unsettling. In Cleveland, for instance, there were 70,000 domestic violence victims in 2016 and 7,800 sexual assaults along with 135 human trafficking investigations. Furthermore, there are many more violent crimes that go unreported.


Criminal justice personnel work to mitigate these crimes to the best of their ability every day, and forensic nurses are part of the team. They work with child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking victims.


In Cleveland, more than 50 forensic nurses are on call 24-7. They provide specialized care for victims of trauma, serving their physical and emotional needs shortly after violent events. The nurses also perform forensic medical exams by collecting biological evidence and connect patients with community victim resources. Furthermore, the nurses may consult with legal counselors, educate medical personnel about how to identify trauma victims and sometimes provide court testimony.


Forensic nurses are invaluable for pinpointing many violent crime victims who enter the hospital system through the emergency room. Unlike physicians, forensic nurses can work with victims and learn their backgrounds while taking the time to make sufferers comfortable enough to share information.


According to a registered nurse working in the Connecticut state prison medical system, "It's a powder keg waiting to blow." The state's corrections commissioner concurred with that sentiment as well as those expressed during the protests of union 1199.


States the Commissioner, officials are continuing to proactively assess the state's prison healthcare network to provide inmates with the best medical services possible. This is especially vital, remarks the official, with the rising need for substance abuse and behavioral health services as well as the proliferation of Hepatitis C and an aging inmate population. In fact, the Department of Corrections is currently facing a class-action lawsuit for failure to screen and treat inmates for the disease.

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