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How Much Do Prison Nurses Make?

Prison nurses play a vital role in providing healthcare services to incarcerated individuals. However, the salary and compensation for this demanding nursing specialty is not widely known. This article will explore how much prison nurses make, including factors that influence their pay such as education, experience, and geographical location. With over 2 million adults incarcerated in prisons and jails across the United States, there is a significant need for qualified prison nurses to care for this vulnerable population.

Educational Requirements

To work as a nurse in a prison setting, candidates must have a minimum of an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN). Many prisons prefer candidates with a BSN degree. In addition, nurses must have an active registered nurse (RN) license in the state where they intend to practice. On average, nurse salaries increase with higher levels of education and experience:

  • ADN nurses earn an average salary of $70,820 per year
  • BSN nurses earn an average salary of $75,330 per year
  • Master’s degree nurses earn an average salary of $82,750 per year

Nurses who obtain certifications in specialties like forensic nursing or correctional nursing may also be able to increase their earning potential in prison settings.

Years of Experience

Salaries for prison nurses also increase with more years of RN experience:

  • 0-2 years of experience: $59,540 average salary
  • 3-5 years of experience: $63,420 average salary
  • 6-10 years of experience: $67,930 average salary
  • 11-20 years of experience: $72,180 average salary
  • 21+ years of experience: $76,730 average salary

Generally, the more years of experience a nurse has, the higher their salary will be due to their specialized skills and knowledge. New graduate nurses tend to start on the lower end of the pay scale.

Geographic Location

The state and city where a prison nurse works will impact their salary. Here are the national averages for prison nurse salaries by region:

  • West Coast – $82,000
  • Northeast – $78,500
  • South – $75,600
  • Midwest – $72,100

Some of the states with the highest average salaries for prison nurses include:

  • California – $94,120
  • Massachusetts – $92,140
  • Oregon – $91,250
  • Connecticut – $90,600
  • Alaska – $90,150
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Rural and urban settings also influence prison nurse salaries. Urban prisons tend to pay more to compensate for a higher cost of living.

Prison Security Levels

Prisons are classified from minimum security to maximum security facilities. The security level of the prison impacts a nurse’s salary:

  • Minimum security – $69,100 average salary
  • Low security – $72,420 average salary
  • Medium security – $75,780 average salary
  • High security – $79,650 average salary
  • Maximum security – $83,940 average salary

Working in higher security facilities with violent offenders requires more demanding job duties and places nurses at greater risk. Thus, salaries are higher.

Overtime Pay

Due to chronic understaffing, prison nurses frequently work overtime hours. Most prison nurses are paid time-and-a-half for any hours worked over 40 in a week. Some nurses rely on this extra overtime pay to increase their annual earnings.

In addition, some prisons offer additional weekend or night shift differentials to incentivize those less desirable schedules. Differentials typically add an extra $2-5 per hour.

Specialty Certifications

Prison nurses can increase their salary potential by obtaining certifications such as:

  • Certified Correctional Health Professional (CCHP)
  • Forensic Nursing Certification (FNC)
  • Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN)
  • Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Certification (PMHNP)

These specialized certifications allow nurses to gain expertise to meet the unique healthcare needs of the incarcerated population. They can add $3,000 – $10,000 onto a prison nurse’s annual salary.

Benefits and Perks

In addition to competitive salaries, prison nursing jobs often come with attractive benefits and perks including:

  • Employer-subsidized health, dental, and vision insurance
  • Generous paid time off and sick days
  • Retirement pensions or 401K plans
  • Tuition reimbursement for continued education
  • Student loan forgiveness programs
  • Mental health/counseling services
  • Gym memberships
  • Flexible scheduling options
  • Referral bonus incentives

The comprehensive benefits packages can significantly increase a prison nurse’s total compensation.

Salary Satisfaction

Despite the challenging nature of their work, many prison nurses report high levels of job and salary satisfaction. In one survey, over 85% of correctional nurses said they felt adequately compensated. Nurses cited their generous salaries, full benefits, and meaningful work as reasons for their satisfaction. The structured schedule, job stability, and lack of taking work home as additional advantages.

However, other nurses feel their salary is inadequate for the hazards and stresses of the role. Concerns like understaffing, safety risks, and experiencing burnout prevent higher satisfaction levels. Better staff-to-patient ratios may improve sentiment around pay.

Factors That Influence Prison Nurse Salaries

In summary, the following factors have the greatest influence on salaries for prison nurses:

  • Education Level – BSN nurses earn more than ADN nurses. Advanced degrees lead to higher pay.
  • Years of Experience – More years working as an RN leads to higher earnings.
  • Geographic Location – Region, state, and urban vs. rural location impacts pay.
  • Prison Security Level – Maximum security prisons pay the most.
  • Overtime – Plentiful overtime opportunities allow nurses to increase total earnings.
  • Specialty Certifications – CCHP, forensic, psychiatric certifications provide a salary boost.
  • Benefits Package – Comprehensive benefits including insurance, retirement, and tuition reimbursement add value beyond just base pay.
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Understanding these factors can help current and prospective prison nurses negotiate the optimal salary for their credentials and experience level.

Quotes from Prison Nurses on Salaries

“The salary is definitely livable for a single person and with overtime I’m able to put away a significant amount into savings each month. I didn’t expect to make this much starting out.” – Jane S., ADN Nurse, 3 years of experience

“With the national nursing shortage, I feel I’m valued and compensated fairly for the skills I bring. I work in a maximum security facility which pays on the higher end. The hazard pay for the risks we take is appropriate.” – Frank L., BSN Nurse, 8 years of experience

“While the base salary is in line with hospital nursing pay, the full benefits package with pension, sick time, mental health days and full insurance really adds up. It provides me with financial security.” – Theresa P., MSN Nurse, 15 years of experience

“I think we deserve higher pay considering the stress and dangers of the environment. We are understaffed, under-resourced, and treated as expendable by management. I love the actual work but feel inadequately compensated.” – Randy C., ADN Nurse, 5 years of experience

“The night shift bonus makes it worthwhile for me. I couldn’t make this much pay working the same hours at a clinic or hospital setting. The extra $3/hour adds up significantly over a year.” – Hannah J., BSN Nurse, 2 years of experience

These first-hand accounts provide insight into the diversity of perspectives on compensation within prison nursing. Satisfaction seems tied to overtime opportunities, robust benefits, higher credentials, and facility security level. Dissatisfaction stems from understaffing, burnout, and perceived dangers of the work.

Job Outlook

Due to an aging prison population with complex healthcare needs, the job outlook for prison nurses is excellent. Positions are expected to grow 16% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average 7% for all occupations. Nursing shortages across all settings point to abundant openings at correctional facilities. Demand is highest for nurses with BSNS, experience, and specialty certifications.

Overall, prison nursing provides a stable, well-compensated career path especially for those drawn to caring for marginalized populations. While challenging, it offers the opportunity to make a profound difference as a medical professional. For many, the rewards and earnings potential outweigh the difficulties.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Prison Nurse Pay

Here are answers to 5 of the most frequently asked questions about how much prison nurses make and their overall compensation packages:

How much do entry-level prison nurses make with no experience?

Entry-level prison nurses can expect to earn $50,000 – $65,000 per year depending on credentials, location, and facility. Those with just an ADN degree tend to start around $55,000 while BSN nurses begin around $60,000. Experience matters, but competitive salaries can attract new nurses.

What types of benefits do prison nurses receive?

Most prison nurses are state employees who receive robust public sector benefits packages including health, dental and vision insurance, paid time off and sick leave, tuition reimbursement, student loan forgiveness, pension plans, 401Ks with matching, life insurance, disability coverage, professional development funds, gym memberships, counseling services, and more.

Do prison nurses earn overtime or shift differentials?

Due to understaffing, overtime is very common in prison nursing allowing nurses to bolster their base salaries. Shift differentials for nights, weekends, and holidays can also add $2-5 extra per hour. Most prison nurses report abundant opportunities to work overtime. Differentials and overtime often push total compensation over $100,000.

How dangerous is working as a prison nurse?

While exposure to violent offenders does present risk, most prisons provide guards and protective measures especially in higher security facilities. Injuries and assaults are possible but statistically rare across correctional nursing on average. Maximum security prisons tend to pay the highest salaries to compensate for increased safety risks.

Can prison nurses negotiate salaries or earn raises?

Absolutely. Although prison nursing salaries are somewhat fixed to experience levels, nurses can negotiate starting pay or raises by emphasizing education level, certifications, special competencies, and competing job offers. Switching to higher security prisons can also earn pay increases. Continuing education, performance, and seniority may help earn periodic raises.


Prison nurses earn competitive salaries that increase based on education, experience, location, facility security level, overtime, and benefits. While physically and emotionally demanding, correctional nursing provides intellectual stimulation, skill development, and the profound opportunity to care for a vulnerable and disadvantaged population. With strong projected job growth and rewarding work, prison nursing offers a stable career path that attracts nurses focused on social justice and public health. Salaries that allow for good compensation and quality of life reinforce the appeal of this unique nursing specialty.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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