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How Much Does a Registered Nurse Get Paid to Work in a Prison?

by Beth Greenwood, studioD

Correctional nurses practice in settings that vary from local prisons to federal high-security penitentiaries. The correctional nurse might perform an intake assessment on a prisoner to determine his health care needs, make a referral to a physician or provide daily care such as inmate sick call or administering medication . Emergency and mental health nursing experience is helpful, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, but the job has no special requirements. Salaries vary according to location, experience and other factors.

Basic Salaries

Registered nurses in the United States earned an average annual salary of $67,930 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figure includes clinical nurse specialists but does not include other advanced practice nurses such as nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and nurse anesthetists, all of whom might work in the correctional setting. The BLS does not track correctional nurses separately from other RNs. However, the USAJobs.gov website reports salaries for RNs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons ranged from $33,586 to $69,673 in 2013.

The Golden State

California is one state that has made headlines for the salaries paid to RNs in correctional facilities, according to a December 2011 article in Bloomberg News. Forty-two nurses in California earned more than $1 million a year, including overtime, from 2005 to 2011. As of 2012, a correctional nurse in Range J for the state of California earned $93,991-- nearly $85,000 of which was regular pay and $7,700 in overtime pay. The regular pay range for that classification was $87,420 to $101,172 in 2012. The reported compensation did not include benefits.

Location Matters

Salaries for correctional nurses varied from state to state at the time of publication. In New York State, for example, RNs in correctional facilities can earn up to $74,000 a year, according to the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The Minnesota Department of Corrections reports a salary range of $47,523 to $70,345 per year. In Wisconsin, the salary range is $60,053 to $85,765, according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Budgeted salaries in 2014 for RNs in Maryland's correctional facilities varied from $68,880 to $81,287, according to the Maryland Department of Budget and Management.

Demand and Job Outlook

Demand for nurses is expected to grow through 2020, according to the BLS, which projects a 26 percent growth rate for registered nurses. The BLS average growth rate for all occupations for the same period is projected at 14 percent. Factors driving this demand include an aging population facing more chronic diseases. Human Rights Watch notes that prisoners over 65 were the fastest-growing group in the U.S. prison system in 2012. HealthECareers reported in a May 2013 article that Texas, Florida and California were the states with the most job openings for RNs in the first three months of 2013.

About the Author

Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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