Prisons are a unique context where nurses are required to have specific skills to ensure that prisoners receive the same type of holistic care as anyone else out of prison, including spiritual care. This discussion paper focuses on understanding how nurses deliver spiritual care in Italian prisons where there are often limited resources and where organizational priorities hinder the provision of holistic nursing. This paper draws from a previous qualitative research study that we had conducted. In this study, we observed that prison nurses reported that they experienced many difficulties related to the provision of holistic care to prisoners. This was particularly true for spiritual care in vulnerable forensic patients, such as older individuals, and physically and mentally frail prisoners. Prison officers did not allow nurses to just “listen and talk” to their patients in prison, because they considered it a waste of time. The conflict between prison organizational constraints and nursing goals, along with limited resources placed barriers to the development of therapeutic relationships between nurses and prisoners, whose holistic and spiritual care needs remained totally unattended. Therefore, prison organizational needs prevailed over prisoners’ needs for spiritual care, which, while fundamental, are nevertheless often underestimated and left unattended. Educational interventions are needed to reaffirm nurses’ role as providers of spiritual care.
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