UNT Prepares Nurses To Work in Prisons

Healthcare worker gives inmate medication
Healthcare worker gives inmate medication | Image by Mindful Media/Getty Images

A new elective track in correctional health will offer nursing students at the University of North Texas an unconventional career option.

UNT is expanding its offerings at the Health Science Center (HSC) in Fort Worth, adding elective coursework designed to prepare nurses for working in jails and prisons. Courses in correctional health will be offered under the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Practice Innovation program.

HSC professor Jan Jowitt created the coursework, believing that many are unaware of the growing need for nurses at correctional facilities.

“I believe that every individual, regardless of their circumstance, deserves access to quality health care and compassionate health care,” Jowitt said, reported KERA.

Jowitt pointed out that not only do inmates have specific needs, but needs are shifting as prison populations grow older. For instance, the number of geriatric inmates in Texas is rising faster than all other demographics. Correctional facilities are mostly ill-equipped to deal with senior health issues, which can cost up to nine times more to handle.

“Prisons are not designed for our older adults,” Jowitt said, citing issues such as dementia, osteoporosis, and falls, per KERA.

“The health challenges prior to incarceration, during incarceration and post incarceration, they don’t disappear. They’re actually stacked on top of each other,” Jowitt added. “I feel it’s my duty to educate our nurses in how to navigate that.”

Recent headlines have shown large cities turning away from soft-on-crime policies amid rising crime rates, as covered by DX.

With the growing prison population and increase in the age of those incarcerated, administrators cannot forget that providing adequate health care to those in prison is a constitutional obligation. As such, some administrators are beginning to grapple with meeting geriatric medical needs, as Bryan Collier, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice executive director, told NPR.

“You don’t usually build prisons with nursing home-type housing or geriatric housing or even wheelchair housing,” Collier said.

Due to recent population growth, nurses are expected to be in high demand in Texas. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services predicts a shortage of around 57,000 nurses in relation to the demand over the next ten years, as reported previously by DX.

UNT officials voted to add two new nursing degree programs at HSC, beginning in the fall of 2025, DX reported. Students will be able to pursue a traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and an MSN in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Additionally, two programs will launch in August 2024: Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) and MSN in Nursing Practice Innovation, reported DX.

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