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The United States has the largest population of incarcerated citizens in the world and the highest per-capita incarceration rate. More than two million people live behind bars in local, state, and federal prisons. Each year over $80 billion is spent on corrections services, of which, in 2015, $8.1 billion was spent on prison healthcare. The budgets of prison healthcare centers, as well as the center and patients, are overseen by the specialized role of correctional health administrators.
Correctional health administrators perform many of the same duties as healthcare administrators but have the added challenge of doing so within the confines of a prison. Typical duties include setting clinic policies, managing budgets, supervising staff, ensuring patients receive adequate care, maintaining patient records, and developing preventative care programs. In addition to these duties, correctional health administrators must supervise inmates to ensure staff stays safe and prisoners remain incarcerated.
The path to a career as a correctional health administrator varies. Education in corrections and healthcare management is essential. Professionals typically earn an undergraduate degree in either health sciences or corrections and then pursue a master’s in health administration or a master’s in business administration with an emphasis in healthcare. Those with healthcare management degrees lacking in corrections education may earn a certificate in corrections from numerous programs across the country. There is one unique all-encompassing master’s of science in health sciences in correctional health administration at George Washington University, which covers all the education necessary for this career.
Earnings in this field are hard to specify, but looking at related fields can give a good idea of potential salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reports that first-line supervisors of correctional officers earn $69,000 per year on average and medical and health services managers earn $115,160 on average.
Here is an overview of what it takes to enter the profession of a correctional health administrator, including the education required, top courses of study, typical responsibilities, and licensure and certification requirements.
Correctional Health Administrator Specializations & Degree Types
There are numerous education paths toward becoming a correctional health administrator. Many professionals in this career complete an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or corrections and then go on to complete a master’s in health administration (MHA). Others simply complete the MHA and then either complete a graduate certificate in correctional management or gain the necessary experience through on the job training.
However, as mentioned above there is one all-encompassing master’s of science in health sciences (MSHS) in correctional health administration offered at George Washington University that prepares professionals for this career with no additional education or experience needed. It should be noted that many correctional health administrator roles require applicants to be a registered nurse, although employment can be secured without being one.
Admissions Requirements for Correctional Health Administrator Programs
Master’s degree programs that put students on the path towards becoming a correctional health administrator typically require applicants to have already completed a bachelor’s degree. Previous work in healthcare is required for the MSHS program at George Washington University and can be a requirement in other MHA programs. Applicants are also usually required to submit GRE scores, recommendation letters, a statement of purpose, and all college transcripts.
Correctional Health Administrator Program Accreditation
As there is currently only one full correctional health administrator degree program there are no accrediting bodies yet. Master of health administration programs, however, are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). Students pursuing graduate certificates or new degree programs should ensure the university or college they are attending is, at a minimum, regionally accredited as this ensures a high quality of education.
On-Campus Correctional Health Administrator Degree Programs
Professionals who already have a background in healthcare or have an MHA will find the certificate in correctional management at Indiana University Northwest to be a great stepping stone towards a career as a correctional health administrator. As part of this program, students learn how to work with inmates as well as gain the leadership skills necessary to be in corrections management.
As part of this 15-credit program, students are required to take courses on the criminal justice system, corrections administration, and corrections counseling. Students may also pursue an associate or bachelor’s in criminal justice at IUN. While these degrees alone won’t be enough for a career as a correctional health administrator, they can be critical components when combined with healthcare work experience or an MHA.
- Location: Gary, IN
- Duration: Six months to a year
- Accreditation: Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA)
- Tuition: $713 per credit-hour
The bachelor’s in science (BS) in criminology and criminal justice offered at Arizona State University is a great first step in the educational career of a future correctional health administrator. This full four-year degree requires students to take courses in corrections, criminal justice policies, statistical analysis, and the influence of gender, race, and ethnicity on the criminal justice system.
As part of this program, students may complete internships at over 200 organizations, including the Arizona Department of Corrections. This program is offered as a daytime on-campus option, evening on-campus, or fully online offering students the flexibility to chose how they will complete their degree. Graduates of this program must pursue further education in order to work in correctional health management such as an MHA or an MBA with a concentration in healthcare.
- Location: Tempe, AZ
- Duration: Four years
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Tuition: $28,336 per year
Online or Hybrid Correctional Health Administrator Degree Programs
The master’s of science in health sciences (MSHS) in correctional health administration offered at George Washington University is one of the first programs in the country to cover both healthcare and management in corrections. This all-encompassing degree teaches students how to work with and improve healthcare systems in prisons. Graduates will know how to manage budgets, oversee staff, make evidence-based decisions, and work with diverse populations to provide the best healthcare possible to incarcerated patients.
Applicants are required to have three years of experience working in healthcare settings. No previous experience in corrections is necessary. Courses are offered completely online so students do not need to relocate to complete this program. Required coursework includes foundations of correctional healthcare, fiscal management, diversity, leadership, and informatics. The entire program can be completed in just two years.
- Location: Washington, DC
- Duration: Two years
- Accreditation: Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
- Tuition: $980 per credit-hour
The graduate certificate in corrections management at the University of Oklahoma supplements an education in healthcare to provide professionals with the necessary skills to become correctional health administrators. Graduates have the tools to tackle management problems, ethical decision making, and staffing issues with ease. Coupled with a degree in healthcare management, students will be ready to manage penal healthcare settings with the utmost confidence.
Students in this program complete two required courses in penology and ethical decision making along with electives in gang studies, restorative justice, mental illness, or community justice. The required coursework is typically completed over the course of three semesters; however, students have the flexibility to adjust their course load as they see fit.
- Location: Norman, OK
- Duration: One year
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Tuition: $885.10 per credit-hour
How Long Does it Take to Become a Correctional Health Administrator?
Because of the work experience typically required to work in this field, it takes between seven to ten years (after graduating from high school) to become a correctional health administrator. The timeline varies based on the type of master’s degree obtained and the work experience required.
How To Become a Correctional Health Administrator – Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)
The first step in this unique healthcare career is to complete high school or obtain a GED as it is a requirement for most bachelor’s programs. Students who wish to become correctional health administrators should take courses in high school in business, science, health, psychology, and math. Advanced courses can help students improve their chances of college admissions and also help them earn college credit prior to graduating from high school.
Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)
It is necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree in order to pursue this career. Students typically complete their undergraduate degrees in criminal justice or a related field. However, students may also choose to strictly pursue health sciences, with the intent to complete corrections studies later on in their education.
Step 3: Obtain Work Experience (Timeline Varies, Optional)
Many master’s programs require applicants to have work experience. For this career professionals typically earn a master’s in health administration which often requires applicants to have one to three years of experience in a healthcare setting. For example, the MSHS program in correctional health administration at the George Washington University requires three years of healthcare experience to apply.
Step 4: Complete a Master’s Degree (One to Three Years)
Education in health administration is necessary in order to become a correctional health administrator. This can be obtained from a number of master’s degrees including an MBA with an emphasis in healthcare or an MHA. Further education in corrections, such as a certificate program, may be necessary if the student doesn’t already have an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or related field. The program MSHS correctional health administration at the George Washington University provides the necessary education in both healthcare and corrections.
Step 5: Pursue a Certificate Program (Optional, One Year)
Professionals who only have education in healthcare, healthcare administration, or a related field may find it necessary to complete a certificate course in corrections management. Numerous programs exist across the country and many of them are online making the necessary education easy to obtain.
Step 6: Obtain Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)
There are two main certifications for healthcare administrators. The first is to become a certified correctional health professional (CCHP) from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), which entails both corrections and healthcare. The second is to become a certified correctional officer (CCO) through the American Correctional Association (ACA), which is strictly a certification for corrections. Neither certification is required for employment in this field although they can be helpful when securing employment.
What Do Correctional Health Administrators Do?
Correctional health administrators are responsible for managing the healthcare center that ensures the wellbeing of inmates. Professionals in this field not only have a strong background in healthcare and management but also have unique training in corrections. Day-to-day duties include:
- Establishing policies for prison hospital and clinic operations
- Supervising a wide variety of staff from nurses and doctors to custodians and administrative staff
- Setting and managing a budget
- Supervising inmate conduct while in the prison healthcare system
- Protecting and maintaining the safety of staff and prisoners
- Hiring and supervising staff
- Performing administrative duties such as scheduling and record-keeping
- Maintaining an onsite pharmacy with the assistance of staff
- Consulting with specialists outside of the prison for more complicated cases
- Arranging for patient transport and care should a more specialized facility be necessary
- Developing and implementing preventative care strategies to keep inmates healthy
Correctional Health Administrator Certifications & Licensure
While it is not necessary to be licensed to work as a correctional health administrator, professionals in this field may find it advantageous to become a certified correctional health professional (CCHP) from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC). This certification demonstrates not only an understanding of healthcare but of the unique way it is applied in correctional settings.
To be eligible to sit for the test, applications must meet the state and federal requirements for their employment position, which often entails meeting the requirements of being a certified correctional officer (CCO) through the American Correctional Association (ACA). After three years of experience as a health service administrator in a prison, professionals may apply to be a certified health service administrator (CHSA) through the ACA.
How Much Do Correctional Health Administrators Make?
While there isn’t concrete data on this specialized health career, there are similar careers that can give an idea of what a correctional health administrator will earn. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), the 46,430 first-line supervisors of correctional officers in the country made an average annual salary of $69,000 with the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile: $41,850
- 25th percentile: $47,710
- 50th percentile (median): $63,730
- 75th percentile: $86,670
- 90th percentile: $105,780
Finally, according to the BLS (May 2019), the 394,910 medical and health services managers in the U.S. made an average annual salary of $115,160 with the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile: $58,820
- 25th percentile: $76,770
- 50th percentile (median): $100,980
- 75th percentile: $133,520
- 90th percentile: $189,000
Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.