Parole Officer: Career Guide
Parole officers work with those who have served time in prison for serious criminal convictions, supervising offenders who have been released from prison and remanded to parole (parolees), pending good behavior and compliance with the conditions of parole. A parole officer's supervision serves to help offenders rejoin the community, ensure that offenders are complying with the terms of their release, and prevent recidivism (re-offending). Parole officers visit offenders in their homes and places of work and coordinate with government and community organizations to help offenders gain access to job services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and education. Parole officers work for both state and federal corrections agencies. Promotions to higher positions are generally based on an officer's professional experience and often require a master's degree.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
Parole officers help offenders enter fitting support programs, such as substance abuse, anger management, and similar treatments; refer them to housing assistance programs; and assist them with vocational training so that they can obtain employment. They attend parole hearings and report on the offender's progress to the parole board. Individual parole officers are commonly assigned numerous active cases; it is not unusual for an officer to have 100 cases on his or her docket. Some cases may require minimal supervision with occasional contact, while others require heavy supervision with daily check-ins.
Parole officers must keep detailed records of individual cases and regularly interview and interact with family, employers, and treatment specialists on a parolee's support team such as court-ordered drug treatment providers, psychologists, and social workers. This includes scheduling and supervising routine drug testing for offenders as well as arranging for and overseeing home monitoring, including the use of ankle bracelets.
Parole officers are also responsible for ensuring that offenders comply with all terms of their release, which includes identifying and responding to parole violations. For example, a condition of parole might be to avoid drug or alcohol use. An offender who fails a drug test under this condition may be remanded back to custody to serve out the rest of his or her sentence in a correctional facility. Parole officers must keep close tabs on all of the parolees under their supervision and be aware of each individual's circumstances in order to provide support and prevent relapses that could cause an individual's parole to be revoked. Parole officers encounter dangerous situations in the course of employment as they work with some offenders convicted of serious crimes and may also work with offenders living in disadvantaged areas that have high rates of crime.
Steps for Becoming a Parole Officer
Most state and federal parole agencies require that parole officer applicants hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, psychology, social work, or corrections. Some employers require a master's degree in criminal justice or a related field. In most states, parole officers must be at least 21 years old and have a valid driver's license. They are also required to attend training sessions and certification courses. Parole officers may be required to qualify to carry a firearm, depending on the agency. To become a parole officer, you will likely complete the following steps:
- Earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field.
- If possible, complete an internship in corrections to gain experience and exposure to the conditions of the job.
- Apply for a parole officer job with a hiring agency.
- Complete at least one in-person interview.
- Submit to a background investigation.
- Take and pass a psychological exam.
- Take and pass a drug test.
- Be hired as a parole officer.
- Complete any certifications, including firearm certifications, required by the employer.
- Undergo on-the-job field training with a senior parole officer once hired.
Parole Officer Job Training
New parole officers go through agency training upon being hired. This typically involves being paired with a senior parole officer for several weeks, job shadowing and learning how to interact with offenders, track progress, and maintain detailed records that may later be used in court. This training also typically includes arrest procedures and the use of lethal weapons, since parole officers should expect to encounter situations where the parolees in their charge must be returned to custody. After successfully completing initial training, the rookie parole officer will typically team up and work with a parole supervisor up to a year before being assigned to work cases independently. Additional training is often necessary for officers who specialize in a particular population, such as sex offenders or juveniles. Special populations training may include sensitivity training, family and child psychology, and sex offender treatment specialist training.
Other Helpful Skills and Experience
Parole officers will work with a variety of people – offenders, law enforcement, and the community – and must be able to effectively communicate, actively listen, teach others, and effectively manage their time. Parole officers must always be aware of their environment and the attitudes of those with whom they work, as this job can be dangerous. Prospective parole officers should be physically fit in order to meet the demands of the job. Finally, those seeking to enter this field should have at least a bachelor's degree; according to O*NET OnLine, 86% of those currently in this field believe new applicants should hold a bachelor's degree, while 7% think a master's degree is the minimum necessary.1 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the ability to speak Spanish may also bolster job prospects in this industry.2
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Community Supervision Officer
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
- Parole Officer
- Probation Officer
Parole Officer Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median pay for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists at $53,020 per year in 2018.2 Local government positions offered a higher average annual salary, at $58,040.2 The BLS projects moderate employment growth for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, at 6% through 2026.2 However, although overall employment growth will be slow, employment opportunities will be numerous as officers retire or leave corrections agencies due to other reasons, particularly job-related stress; the significant stress associated with parole work results in a high turnover rate for the profession overall.2 There are also opportunities for parole officers to move into management roles; according to O*NET OnLine, first-line supervisors of correctional officers earned an average salary of $63,340 per year as of 2018.3
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Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What type of work schedule is typical for a parole officer?
Answer: Parole officers typically work at least a 40 hour work week. As the demands of the job change according to how well parolees are adjusting to their new schedules and conditions of parole, parole officers must be prepared to be on call and to work overtime as necessary. Working evenings and weekends to keep in contact with offenders is expected, since both home and work visits recording offenders' progress are required.
Question: Is certification necessary to work as a parole officer?
Answer: Generally, you do not need special certification to work as a parole officer, aside from firearms qualifications in agencies that require it. However, nearly all corrections agencies require parole officer candidates to hold a bachelor's degree. Additionally, prospective parole officers should expect to complete significant on-the-job training before they are ready to work independently with their own caseload.
Question: What is the difference between a probation officer and a parole officer?
Answer: Probation officers work with offenders who have been sentenced to probation for misdemeanor or felony crimes. Probation is frequently offered in lieu of jail time at a local level, 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 in order to finish the remainder of their sentence. Parole is offered on condition of good behavior and re-adjustment to society as a law-abiding citizen.
- American Probation and Parole Association: A resource for parole and probation officers at all levels of government, offering training opportunities, industry news, and advocacy for the corrections profession.
- Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association: The Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association is a membership organization for those working with and within the federal court system, promoting professionalism and opportunities for its members.
- National Institute of Corrections: The NIC is a federal agency dedicated to providing planning, operations, and policy services to the corrections industry, including state and local adult corrections.
- American Correctional Association: The ACA offers a wide variety of professional development opportunities for professionals in the corrections system, including seminars, conferences, webinars, and other publications.
1. O*NET OnLine, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1092.00
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
3. O*NET OnLine, First-Line Supervisors of Correctional Officers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/33-1011.00