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Nursing roles in criminal justice services

The specialist nursing staff working in each of the criminal justice services       

Nursing staff work in diverse roles in prisons, police custody and other criminal justice settings.  


Nurses working in criminal justice services need expertise in managing acutely ill patients, both mental and physical, as well as an awareness of therapeutic interventions to address distress and assist in lifestyle changes.

Custody nurses

Custody nurses provide health care services in police custody suites. They are responsible for conducting clinical assessments, identifying and implementing appropriate interventions, collecting forensic samples and providing advice and guidance to detainees and police staff. They are also responsible for maintaining detailed and accurate records to ensure the health, safety and welfare of people held in police custody.


Custody nurse practitioners

Custody nurse practitioners (CNP) triage detainees in custody by assessing, treating and referring them on as appropriate. They also conduct mental health assessments, as well as assessing and administering medications for alcohol/drug withdrawal using patient group directions. 

Although the majority of custody nurse practitioners are general nurses, some are also dual trained (both general and mental health qualified), with A&E and/or prison health care experience and qualifications.

Custody nurse practitioners are employed by the NHS in Scotland and in a few areas in England and Wales. All other CNPs are employed through private service providers or the police force. 

Prison nurses

Prison nurses provide health care in all UK prison settings. Prison nurses’ roles are varied from a generalist role to more specific specialist roles which may include general, mental health, substance misuse, children’s and learning disability nurses.

They work as part of multidisciplinary teams delivering primary care, including triage and walk-in direct access, as well as inpatient care in some instances. 

With the ever increasing ageing prison population prison nurses often provide palliative and end of life care and support people with complex long-term conditions, often further complicated by substance misuse and/or pre-existing mental ill-health. 

Immigration centre nurses

Immigration centre nurses provide health services to people detained under the Immigration Act by the Borders and Immigration Agency. Their work includes all aspects of primary care in general and mental health. 

Several immigration centres also offer substance misuse treatment as part of the national Integrated Drug Treatment Service that is also provided within UK prisons. This requires nurses to have specialist substance misuse and non-medical prescribing qualifications. 

Immigration removal centres are run by both public and private sector agencies and some have inpatient facilities. 

Health care assistants

HCAs leading on health promotion activities within criminal justice settings such as smoking cessation, running clinics such as hypertension and venepuncture clinics, plus supporting the delivery of sessions for long-term conditions.