How to Become a Parole Officer: Career Guide

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Updated May 17, 2024 · 4 Min Read

Parole officers improve communities by helping law offenders re-enter society. Learn more about these officers and how to pursue this career.

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Parole officers play an important role in the criminal justice system by helping to rehabilitate individuals after they leave prison. Parole provides the courts with an alternative to prison, and parole officers mentor and guide offenders back into their communities.

Every state has specific requirements for parole officers, making it difficult to know where to start. Explore how to become a parole officer and what you can expect in the profession with this helpful guide.

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What Is a Parole Officer?

Parole officers supervise the release and reintegration of offenders from prison as they begin parole. Typically employed by local, state, and federal governments, parole officers monitor, counsel, and report on offenders.

While they often work in parole offices, these professionals also make house calls. Their work regularly takes them to high-crime areas, courts, and prisons. Parole officers work with criminals and felons, but they also help people rehabilitate their lives and become contributing members of society.

Daily Tasks and Responsibilities

  • Monitor offenders to ensure compliance with postrelease conditions
  • Train and counsel offenders for reintegration
  • Document and report on offender reintegration processes
  • Answer questions and provide support to offenders
  • Coordinate offender placements with employers and community organizations
  • Oversee scheduled alcohol and drug testing

How to Become a Parole Officer

Parole Officer Career Path Overview

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, counseling, or a related field.
  2. Gain counseling, casework, or other relevant experience.
  3. Pass a civil service or parole officer certification examination.
  4. Pass a pre-employment drug test and criminal background check.
  5. Complete a state-sponsored or federal training program.
  6. Complete on-the-job training.

Education and Experience

Experience and education requirements differ depending on your location and employer, but they almost always include a bachelor's degree and some relevant experience at minimum. Criminal justice and criminology degrees are the most relevant, but counseling, social work, psychology, sociology, and business degrees may qualify. Some advanced or federal positions require or prefer a master's degree in criminal justice or a related field.

Many states and employers also require a minimum of one year of relevant postgraduate experience. The requirements for this experience vary, but supervised casework or corrections fieldwork usually qualify. In some cases, graduate work can satisfy a portion of the experience requirements.

Advanced positions with higher salaries typically require additional years of hands-on work, including more specialized experience.

Job Training

Parole officer training varies by state but often combines specialized academy and field training. After accepting an offer of employment, new parole officers usually begin academy programs with classroom and practical assignments. Academy programs may cover offender supervision, administrative responsibilities, and policies and procedures.

Academy program lengths differ. For example, they take eight weeks at the Adult Community Corrections Academy in Maine and 13 weeks at the California Department of Corrections' training academy. The federal program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Charleston, South Carolina, requires just six weeks.

The field training process also varies by state and position. In Texas, new parole officers begin with a two-week mentorship at a field office. In Maine, field training lasts six months, while federal parole officers receive on-the-job training during their one-year probationary period.

Other Requirements

In addition to education, experience, and job training, parole officers may need the following:

  • Minimum 21 years of age (some federal positions have a maximum age of 37)
  • Valid driver's license
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency
  • Medical/psychiatric evaluation
  • Clean drug screening
  • Clean criminal and background check
  • Some states require certification (such as New York peace officer certification)

What Skills Do Parole Officers Need?

Parole officers rely on hard and soft skills to complete their daily tasks and thrive professionally. Here are just some of the skills you may need:

Observation: Observational skills help officers monitor offenders to ensure they comply with release conditions and integration processes.

Interpersonal and Human Relations: Officers support offenders and collaborate with professionals from other fields when coordinating reintegration steps for offenders.

Communication: Parole officers need strong communication skills to speak and listen to offenders and their families. They also advise offenders and other law enforcement professionals.

Writing: Writing skills are necessary for creating reports and completing various administrative duties.

Critical Thinking: Officers need to analyze situations and people when making decisions and judgments on offenders and their progress.

Parole Officer Salary and Career Outlook

The career outlook for parole officers appears strong as the judicial system explores alternatives to traditional incarceration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) — which groups parole officers with probation officers and correctional treatment specialists — projects a 3% employment growth rate from 2022-2032, keeping pace with projections for all occupations.

While the BLS reports an annual mean wage of $67,880 for these professionals as of May 2023, parole officer salaries vary by the industry and state that employs them. For example, local governments pay a mean annual salary of $71,740, compared to $65,880 in state governments. In California, the annual mean wage is $102,230, nearly tripling the $35,040 average in Mississippi.

At the federal level, parole officers with more advanced education and experience can access roles with higher salaries. For example, professionals with master's degrees and more than two years of specialized experience can earn up to $86,962 per year.

Career Advancement for Parole Officers

With experience and more advanced education, parole officerscan pursue federal positions and supervisory roles. Parole supervisors may help train and mentor new parole officers, oversee offender progress reports, and manage conditional sentences and reintegration processes.

These positions often come with greater responsibilities and higher salaries. According to the BLS, the top 10% of parole officers made more than $105,220 in May 2023.

Additional Resources

APPA offers resources for parole and probation officers at all levels of government, offering training opportunities, industry news, and advocacy for the corrections profession

The FPPOA is a membership organization for those working with and within the federal court system, promoting professionalism and opportunities for its members

This federal agency provides planning, operations, and policy services to the corrections industry, including state and local adult corrections

The ACA offers various professional development opportunities for professionals in the corrections system, including seminars, conferences, webinars, and other publications

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Parole Officer

How long does it take to become a parole officer?

After high school, it typically takes about six years to become a parole officer. This period includes four years for a bachelor's degree, one year for experience, and up to one year for job training.

Can parole officers carry guns?

In some states, parole officers carry firearms and must undergo training as part of the onboarding process. As a parole officer, you may need to make unannounced home visits and encounter potentially dangerous situations that could call for firearm protection.

Can a felon be a parole officer?

Parole officers need to complete background and criminal record checks, which usually eliminates felons from consideration. However, depending on your state and situation, you may still earn employment if you have completed your rehabilitation.

Where do parole officers make the most money?

According to the BLS, parole officers make the most money in California, earning mean annual wages of $102,230 in May 2023. Connecticut's parole officers were next at $92,970. Local governments paid the highest mean annual wages at $71,740.

What is the difference between a probation officer and a parole officer?

Probation officers work with offenders sentenced to probation for misdemeanor or felony crimes. Probation is frequently offered in place of or as a supplement to jail time. Parole officers work with offenders who have served time in prison for felonies and were released on parole to finish the remainder of their sentences. Offenders are offered parole conditions of good behavior and re-adjustment to society as law-abiding citizens.

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