Probation Officer Career Guide

Probation officers supervise people sentenced to probation by the court. Their ultimate goal is to assist with the rehabilitation of their clients. Officers work closely with law enforcement, social services, and other agencies so they can help their clients receive what they need to be successful (e.g., education and training, counseling, job placement, and housing).

Probation Officer Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Probation officers work directly with assigned clients, prepare detailed reports for the court, investigate offenders, and give the judge information about the offender’s background, so the judge can administer an appropriate sentence. Officers may conduct random drug tests, monitor their clients’ whereabouts, and interview family, friends, and employers. In short, they do everything possible to ensure their clients comply with the conditions of their probation.

How to Become a Probation Officer: Requirements and Qualifications

Typically, probation officers work for the state or, in some cases, for the federal government. They usually must have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, or a related field. For federal positions or for more advanced positions, a candidate may be required to have a master’s degree in one of those fields, in social work, or in counseling. A probation officer must communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, and must be able to work well with a variety of people. Officers typically have a large caseload and must be able to handle the stress.

Probation Officer Job Training

The type and length of training for newly hired probation officers generally depends on the requirements of the state government or the federal government that hired them. Probation officers with the federal government, for example, should expect continuous training throughout their careers. Newly hired officers with the federal government must complete mandatory new officer orientation at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in South Carolina. The six week training program prepares probation officers for their responsibilities as a supervisor. After reporting to duty at their assigned district, officers typically continue with on the job training.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Prospective probation officers should know how to communicate effectively, to have the patience and the ability to instruct others and to identify problems, know how to effectively manage time, and know how to write in a clear and concise manner. Individuals with law enforcement experience may have a hiring advantage.

Examples of Possible of Job Titles for this Career

  • Community supervision officer
  • Probation officer

Career Opportunities and Employers

Probation officers who hope to advance to a supervisory position generally must have accrued experience in their position and may require a master’s or a doctoral degree. Both state and federal agencies hire probation officers.

Probation Officer Salary and Outlook

The salary for a probation officer varies significantly, depending on location. Probation officers in large cities usually earn more than those in rural areas. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary of $48,190 per year for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists.1 If probation officers work at the federal level, they will earn at the upper end of the range. Further, chief probation officers who have a graduate degree or hold a supervisory position can earn a higher salary. Because probation officers are government employees, they usually also receive a benefits package that includes health and life insurance, paid vacation, and a retirement plan. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an employment decrease of 1% for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists for the decade from 2012 to 2022.1 However, jobs will become available due to employees leaving for retirement or other reasons.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What is the difference between a probation officer and a parole officer?
Some people may use the terms probation officer and parole officer interchangeably but there is a distinct difference between the two professions. Probation officers work with those individuals who have been charged with a crime but who have been given probation rather than incarceration. Parole officers work with those individuals, helping them to adjust to living in society, who have been released from prison by the parole board.

What is a common work schedule for probation officers?
Officers generally work a full time schedule, although they should be prepared to work long hours and to be on call, when necessary.

What type of hiring protocol can be expected?
While every institution has its own hiring process, many require candidates to successfully pass exams, including oral, physical, psychological, and written.

Can probation officers specialize in a particular area?
Yes. Some probation officers opt to specialize, which means they work with only certain offenders, such as those with substance abuse problems or who have been convicted of domestic violence. Specialization generally requires additional training.

Additional Resources

American Probation and Parole Association – A professional organization dedicated to educating, training, advocating, and empowering probation and parole officers.

American Correctional Association – The oldest association for individuals in the corrections profession.

Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association – A professional organization dedicated to promoting training and communication for federal probation and pretrial officers.

National Institute of Corrections – Educational resources, presented in various formats, for current and prospective probation and parole officers.

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References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
2. United States Courts: http://www.uscourts.gov/FederalCourts/ProbationPretrialServices/Officers.aspx
3. Virginia Jobs Career Guide: http://jobs.virginia.gov/careerguides/probationofficer.htm

Page Edited by Charles Sipe.