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Probation Officer Careers, Jobs, and Training Information

Probation Officer Career and Job Highlights

  • Most are employed by local and State governments.
  • A four-year college degree in the fields of criminal justice, social work, or some other relevant area is normally required.
  • Job growth is directly connected to public funding, and is expected to grow at an average rate.

Probation Officer Career Overview

Instead of serving prison time, many criminals are placed on probation. Convicts must steer clear of trouble and comply with other regulations while on probation. People on probation are supervised by probation officers, or community supervision officers as they are known in some States. Prison inmates receive counsel and assistance in planning for their release from imprisonment from correctional treatment specialists, or case managers.

Pretrial service officers and parole officers function very similarly to probation officers. One major difference is that parole officers ensure criminals who have served jail time and have been released comply with all the requirements of their parole. Some States combine the roles of probation and parole officers. When police arrests suspects, pretrial services officers conduct investigations on them. Based on these investigations it is determined whether to release the suspects before their trial. Pretrial officers must supervise suspects if they are released to ensure they appear in court for the trial and that they comply with other stipulations of their release. In some Federal courts pretrial services officers and probation officers do the same job.

By staying in touch with parolees and their families, parole officers keep tabs on offenders during their probation or parole. Often probation officers contact offenders at home, work, or therapy instead of setting appointments to meet with them at the officer’s office. Churches, neighbors, and community groups help officers supervise offenders’ behavior. Parole officers track the movement and location of some offenders via an electronic tracking device worn by the parolee. Officers often coordinate the drug or alcohol abuse treatment an offender receives, or may arrange for job training. In smaller, more rural areas, probation officers may supervise both juveniles and adults, though the norm is for an officer to supervise one group or the other.

The majority of a probation officer’s time is spent conducting investigations and writing reports about and recommendations on offenders for the courts. Prior to filing sentencing recommendations, officers review their decisions with the offenders and their families. Officers may be asked to provide testimony in court with regards to their reports and recommendations. Officers also bring the court up to date on the offender’s obedience to the stipulations of their parole or probation and their progress with rehabilitation.

Correctional facilities and probation and parole agencies employ correctional treatment specialists. They coordinate release and parole plans with facilities, parole officers, and incarcerated criminals, in addition to monitoring the inmates’ improvement. The reports they prepare are used by parole boards when determining whether to release an inmate up for parole. Specialists also organize individual and group drug and alcohol rehabilitation, sexual abuse counseling, anger management trainings, and job and coping skills seminars. They provide individual reports and treatment strategies for inmates. Those correctional treatment specialists working outside of jails and prisons in parole and probation agencies do many of the same things their colleagues do in correctional facilities.

Risk-levels and specific needs of the persons on probation determine how many cases at a time are handled by a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist. Officers usually are required to spend more time with offenders who have need of more rehabilitation and counseling or with those who pose a higher risk. Agencies and jurisdictions also can determine the maximum number of cases an officer is allowed to manage. Officers may handle anywhere from 20 to 100 cases at any given time.

Officers manage to handle the large load of the cases by using fax machines, phones, and computers; some probation officers and correctional treatment specialists even work from home. Enhancements in technology have allowed officers and specialists to oversee their cases better—especially helpful have been new drug tests and mobile monitoring devices.

Probation Officer Training and Job Qualifications

Prospective correctional treatment specialists and probation officers are usually expected to have a 4-year degree in criminal justice, social work, or some other related field, though specific requirement vary between States. A master’s degree in psychology or the fields already mentioned or related work experience is required by some employers.

Written, psychological, physical, and oral testing is ordinarily part of the application process. Additional training sponsored by the Federal or State government and a certification test may be required of some officers or specialists.

Mental and physical health are prerequisites to working as a probation officer and correctional treatment specialists. The Federal government places an age cap at 37 on new officers, and most jurisdictions require prospects to be at least 21. Convicted felons may be disqualified from this field of employment. Computer-related knowledge and skills are helpful as more and more officers use computers to accomplish their work. A working knowledge of laws, statutes, and policies with regards to correctional issues is also helpful. Because of the large number of reports a correctional treatment specialist or probation officer will produce over his or her career, candidates should possess strong writing skills.

Newly hired officers and specialists receive additional on-the-job training for up to one year after being hired. Permanent work is granted after the officer passes the probationary training period. Most agencies employ a number of correctional treatment specialists and parole officers with different levels of experience, all the way up to supervisors. Advancement opportunities are enhanced by holding an advanced degree in a relevant field of study.

Probation Officer Job and Employment Opportunities

The growth rate for probation officers and correctional treatment specialist employment is expected be average through 2012. Many officers and specialists are projected to retire between now and 2012, creating many job opportunities, in addition to the natural job growth during that time period. However, because of the stressful, heavy workloads and comparatively low pay, some prospective workers will choose other fields of employment.

Inmate populations will continue to rise due to strict enforcement of the law by police. The probation population will increase as lawyers and judges seek to ease the already overburdened prison population by enforcing alternative punishments like day reporting centers and electronic tracking. More inmates will be put on parole to ease overcrowding in the prisons. More probation officers and correctional treatment specialists will be needed to meet the demands of these growing populations. Growth is connected to government funding for probation systems and correctional facilities. Though it is economically advantageous to place offenders on probation rather than in prison, political opinion has shifted towards more incarceration, which may result in a decreased demand for probation and correctional treatment services.

Historical Earnings Information

Correctional treatment specialists and probation officers earned a median of $38,360 in 2002. The two middle quartiles earned from $30,770 to $50,550. The top 10 percent earned greater than $62,520 while the lowest 10 percent brought in less than $25,810. Local government officers and specialists earned a median $39,450 compared to the State median of $38,720 in 2002. Jobs in urban areas tended to result in higher wages.