Credit points


Campus offering

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NRSG524 Advanced Pathophysiology for Specialty Nursing Practice AND NRSG525 Evidence-based, Person-centred Family Care in Specialty Nursing Practice

Unit rationale, description and aim

For the majority of prisoners, incarceration is a temporary experience that may exacerbate, or cause a mental health condition. The mental health needs of prisoners are complex and myriad, and setting restrictions pose additional challenges for nurses working within this environment. In order to be effective healthcare practitioners, nurses working in correctional health must have a range of knowledge and skills to successfully work with prisoners. Correctional health nurses must apply their understanding of priority areas of correctional healthcare, such as mental illness, substance misuse and assessment.

This unit will explore key mental health nursing assessment requirements including biopsychosocial assessment, mental state assessment, and risk assessment. Prisoners are also understood to present with alcohol and other drug misuse at rates significantly higher than other populations. Students will develop knowledge and skills regarding illicit drug misuse and management. Underpinning these concepts is the unique culture of prison, and the specific needs of diverse prisoner populations, including Indigenous Australian’s and female prisoners. 

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Utilise a range of assessment strategies and critically apply this knowledge of mental health problems and assessment in the correctional context, taking into consideration the unique challenges of providing mental health treatment within a secure setting (GA1, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Demonstrate an understanding of substance misuse, and the indications, impacts and role of addiction, and critically apply this knowledge to the resulting issues prisoners, correctional facilities and nurses face (GA2, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Analyse the unique mental health challenges that prisoners face including those experienced by minority populations (e.g. Indigenous Australians) (GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8) 

LO4 - Consider contributing factors in the development of mental illness in prison populations, whilst critically reflecting upon the integration of trauma-informed evidence-based mental health practices in this environment (GA3, GA4, GA8, GA9)  

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

The Mental Health of Australian Prisoners in Correctional Facilities

·        Exploration of key factors affecting prisoner minority groups such as the mental healthcare needs of Indigenous Australians

·        Aetiology and epidemiology of mental disorders in prisoners

·        Trauma-informed care practices

·        Recidivism due to mental illness

·        Indigenous Australian's mental health

Major Mental Disorders

·        Diagnostic criteria and classification of major mental disorders

·        Psychotic spectrum disorders (e.g. schizophrenia)

·        Mood disorders (e.g. major depression, bipolar disorder)

·        Personality disorders (e.g., antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder)

·        Substance use disorders (SUD) (e.g. alcohol use disorder)

Custodial Treatment of Mental Disorders

·        Psychoeducation for prisoners

·        Psychotropic medication: indications, effects and side effects

·        Strategies to manage mental illness within a correctional environment

Mental Health Assessment

·        Mental state exam

·        Biopsychosocial health assessment

·        Risk assessment and supported risk-taking within a secure environment

·        Suicide and self-harm

Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Misuse

·        Exploration of the role of AOD in incarceration, recidivism and mental illness

·        Recognition and clinical response to substance use disorder (SUD)

·        AOD treatment and management in secure settings

·        Harm minimization

·        Managing and responding to substance-use withdrawal

Working Collaboratively and Safely within a Correctional Environment

·        Managing, responding to and predicting challenging behaviors

·        De-escalation

·        Vicarious trauma

·        Self-awareness, self-care and managing ‘burn out’ in challenging environments 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit uses an active learning approach to support students in the exploration of knowledge essential to the discipline. Students are provided with choice and variety in how they learn. Students are encouraged to contribute to asynchronous weekly discussions. Active learning opportunities provide students with opportunities to practice and apply their learning in situations similar to their future professions. Activities encourage students to bring their own examples to demonstrate understanding, application and engage constructively with their peers. Students receive regular and timely feedback on their learning, which includes information on their progress.

This unit is offered in online mode and it is expected that students will be engaged in nursing employment, preferably where they have ongoing contact with prisoners within the justice system. This will enable students to apply, evaluate and critically reflect on their learning while in a supported and relevant, clinical context.

The active learning approaches applied in this unit are flexible and inclusive, allowing students the opportunity to analyse and critically evaluate approaches to providing evidence-based nursing care within a correctional setting. Students will engage in readings and reflections, e-Module activities and opportunities to collaborate with peers in an online environment. This can involve, but is not limited to, online discussion forums, chat rooms, guided reading and webinars. In addition, learning e-Modules and links to electronic readings will be provided on the learning management system (LMS) so as to guide students’ reading and extend other aspects of online learning.

Through an online learning platform, students will have the opportunity to reflect on the complexity of recognizing a need for, and applying mental health nursing care and treatment; and applying diagnostic understandings of mental disorders, whilst also considering utilizing the most appropriate modalities of assessment within the challenging context of correctional nursing. In constructing knowledge about mental disorders within a specialized context, students will consider the additional complexities of substance misuse within prison populations.  

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy used allows for the progressive development of knowledge and skills necessary for the student to be able to utilise mental health nursing skills within a correctional healthcare setting.

As postgraduate students who are already health practitioners, students will have varying experiences in assessment, care planning and implementing mental health nursing care. The assessment tasks have been designed to enable students to demonstrate achievement of learning outcomes and apply a range of therapeutic interventions within the correctional field.

The critical reflection will allow students to bring together their learning across the semester of study and show how they have developed their practice and understanding of the impacts of AOD use in vulnerable people, through reflecting on pivotal learning experiences.

The assessments used in this unit include application of clinical experience and prisoner assessments that are relevant to the student's individual workplace, and nursing practice.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Written Assessment

Provides students with the opportunity to demonstrate understanding of evidence-based knowledge underpinning their clinical practice.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Critical Reflection

This provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate knowledge and critical reflection of providing mental healthcare within the constraints and culture of a correctional facility.


LO1, LO4

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th ed. Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2019). The health of Australia’s prisoners 2018. Cat. no. PHE 246. Canberra: AIHW

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2018). Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 221. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2016). Australian burden of disease study: impact and causes of illness and death in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 2011. Cat. no. BOD 7. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014). Alcohol and other drug treatment and diversion from the criminal justice system. Bulletin 125. Canberra: AIHW.

Biles, B. & Biles, J. (2019). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing, Australia: Oxford.

Foster, K., Marks, P., O’Brien, A.J. & Raeburn, T. (2020). Mental health in nursing – Theory and practice for clinical settings. Elsevier.

Hercelinskyj, G. & Alexander, L. (2020). Mental health nursing – applying theory to practice. Singapore: Cengage.

United Nations. (1990). Basic principles for the treatment of prisoners. Retrieved from  

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