Probation Officer: Career Guide
Probation officers supervise people sentenced to probation by the courts. Their ultimate goal is to assist with the rehabilitation of offenders. 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 officers who hope to advance to a supervisory position generally must have accrued experience in their position and may be required to hold a master's or a doctoral degree. Both state and federal agencies hire probation officers.
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 and successfully reintegrate with the community after a criminal conviction.
Steps for Becoming a Probation Officer
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 significant work-related stress.
To become a probation officer, you will:
- Earn a degree or accumulate the experience needed for your desired position.
- Apply for an open position as a probation officer.
- Be interviewed.
- Pass a background investigation.
- Get hired as a probation officer.
- Get trained on-the-job once hired.
Probation Officer Job Training
The type and length of training for newly hired probation officers generally depends on the requirements of the agency 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, have the patience and ability to instruct others and 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.
Possible of Job Titles for This Career
- Community Supervision Officer
- Probation Officer
Probation Officer Salary and Job 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 (BLS) reports a median salary of $53,020 per year for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists.1 Probation officers working at the federal level tend to 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 BLS estimates employment growth of 6% for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists for the decade from 2016 to 2026.1
Interested in a career similar to a probation officer? Check out these related careers:
- Corrections Officer
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
- Juvenile Probation Officer
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
- Youth Correctional Counselor
- Police Officer
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What is the difference between a probation officer and a parole officer?
Answer: 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 individuals who have been convicted of a crime but were given probation in lieu of a prison term, or who received a deferred sentence pending conditions including probation. Parole officers work with individuals who served time in prison and have been released under supervision, helping them readjust to living in the community.
Question: What is a common work schedule for probation officers?
Answer: Officers generally work a full-time schedule. Prospective probation officers should be prepared to work long hours, including nights and weekends, and to be on call when necessary.
Question: What type of hiring protocol can be expected?
Answer: While every institution has its own hiring process, many require candidates to successfully pass exams, including oral, physical, psychological, and written.
Question: Can probation officers specialize in a particular area?
Answer: 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.
- 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.
1. 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