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Thinking about Working in a Jail or Prison? Learn the Lingo for a Quick Start

Every culture and clinical setting has a unique language. Correctional nursing is no exception. Drop into a jail medical unit on a new assignment and you may not be able to follow what is going on. The custody environment and unique medical processes make up the majority of challenges. Many of these terms and abbreviations make their way onto medical charts, causing consternation to the uninitiated. Of course, terms and abbreviations can be regional and/or specific to the facility or state system. I consult all over the country and still need to clarify when an unfamiliar word crops into the conversation. If you are new to correctional nursing, jumpstart your orientation by getting to know these primary terms.

General Abbreviations

DOC: Department of Corrections

BOP: Bureau of Prisons

I/M: Inmate, prisoner, the patient

CO/Officer: Custody Officer (Never refer to officers as guards – very bad form) When known, use rank such as Sargent or Corporal as a sign of respect. Most custody organizations use military rank systems.

Inmate Locations

GenPop/Pop/GP:  The majority of inmates are in general housing areas without any special protection or accommodations.

Ad Seg/SHU:  Administrative Segregation/Special Housing Unit/Security Housing Unit. Special protective housing or special restrictive housing with less access to or by other inmates. These areas can also isolate inmates from services offered in the general population.

SNU:  Special Needs Unit. Often a mental health protective unit, this is another restricted area with less access to general facility services but higher levels of specialized accommodations.

Barracks/Block/Dorm/Pod/Tier:  Many names for general population inmate housing areas.
Food Flap/Hatch/Wicket: Knee-level hinged opening in cell door for food delivery and limited access exchanges such as medication administration.

Inmate Terms

Shank:  Knive created from commonly available materials.

Hooch/pruno:  Cell-made alcohol from fermented available foods, often fruits.

Care Delivery

Med line/Pill line:  Medication delivery process. Can take place in the medical unit, in this case inmates are escorted and lined up in a secure area. Can take place in the housing area, in this case a nurse roles the cart to the housing area and inmates line up for medications.

Kite/Slip/Request:  A written request for medical services. Nurses may tell inmates to ‘Drop a Slip’ or ‘Drop a Kite’ to obtain an appointment for an evaluation. Requests are triaged based on urgency for the next available appointment.

Sick Call:  Regularly scheduled access to a nurse or physician. Nurse sick call is usually the first access. A physician appointment is made based on nurse evaluation. Nurses are often able to provide OTC medications based on sick call assessment and pre-approved protocols.

Chronic Care Clinic:  Regularly scheduled appointments to evaluate chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Mostly physician appointments but may be a nurse appointment for patient education and medication compliance if the condition is stable.

DOT/Watch-Take:  Direct-Observation-Therapy. Medications given in pill line/med line where the inmate is observed taking the medication for compliance and diversion issues.

KOP/On-Person:  Keep On Person – medication given to the inmate for self administration. Reserved for low-risk therapies and medications not deemed of high value in the prison black market.

Learn more about the incarcerated patient population and the unique field of correctional health care through this online continuing education course: Correctional Healthcare Patient and Environment.


Guest blog post by Pedagogy author Dr. Lorry Schoenly:

Lorry Schoenly, PhD, RN, CCHP-RN is a nurse author and educator specializing in the field of correctional health care. She provides consulting services to jails and prisons across the country on projects to improve professional nursing practice and patient safety. She began her corrections experience in the NJ Prison system where she created and implemented education for nurses, physicians, dentists, and site managers. Before “accidentally” finding correctional healthcare, she practiced in critical care and orthopaedic specialties. Dr. Schoenly  actively promotes correctional health care through social media outlets and increases the visibility of the specialty through her popular blog – correctionalnurse.net. Her podcast, Correctional Nursing Today, reviews correctional healthcare news and interviews correctional health care leaders. Lorry is co-editor and chapter author of Essentials of Correctional Nursing, the first primary practice text for the correctional nursing specialty, published in 2012 and available on amazon.com. When not writing, speaking and consulting on correctional nursing practice, Lorry can be found exploring civil war battlefields or building Lego towers with her toddler grandson.

This post originally appeared on CorrectionalNurse.Net.

Posted: 5/26/2014 4:00:00 AM
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