What Is Forensic Mental Health Nursing?

Updated April 17, 2017

If you seek to become a forensic mental health nurse, you should be ready to care for the well-being of individuals who are in trouble with the law and may be in jail or prison. Your role is to participate in the assessment, management and treatment of offenders who may be afflicted with mental disorders. You must be comfortable with providing psychiatric nursing to a patient who is involved in a criminal investigation and being legally prosecuted.


The U.S. Bureau of Justice stated in 2006 that more than half of all jail and prison inmates suffer from mental health problems. However, only one third of jailed individuals with mental issues receive treatment for their condition. The role of the forensic mental health nurse is to detect if an individual's criminal behaviours may have been fuelled by a clinical condition. Hence, the job plays a key role in the justice system as the nurse is instrumental in the placement of an offender in the most appropriate high security facilities, either a mental health institution or prison.


As a forensic psychiatric nurse, your role is to diagnose the mental problems of each individual and recommend a series of treatment that can alleviate the condition. Your evaluation must discern between behaviours that may be simulated and genuine conditions. Judicial and legal organisations will seek your opinion about the danger the inmate poses following treatment and the potential for rehabilitation. During incarceration, inmates may develop additional mental conditions such as depression. Your role will be to detect those who need to be treated for such conditions.


To join this profession, you need to acquire a registered nurse degree that can be obtained through a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) in a college or university, the path most recommended by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. This option is best for advancement later in life. You can also take a faster track and receive a two-year or three-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) from a community college. Management positions are not as easy to obtain with an ADN.

Specialisation and Certification

Upon graduation with a BSN or ADN degree, you need to pass a national license exam, the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This opens the door for an entrance into a master's degree program in nursing that can assign a psychiatry specialisation, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Starting in 2015, a doctorate in nursing will become mandatory. If you choose to work within the walls of a prison, you will need to obtain a certification from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).


This profession earned a median salary of £40,592 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top ten per cent of earners made above £59,956.


When you enter this profession, you will enjoy the independence of making decisions regarding the treatment for incarcerated patients without having to rely on a doctor. Additionally, you will be surrounded by medical professionals who will share with you the value that inmates are patients first before being criminals.

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About the Author

Nathalie Gosset started writing for technical journals such as “Lightwave” in 1990. Awarded the 2009 IEEE Engineer of the Year and 2007 EMBS Career Achievement recognitions for her philanthropic outreach, she authored her first professional development book, “Hidden Jobs, How to Find Them!” in 2009. Gosset has a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering, a Master in Telecom and a Master of Business Administration.