A probation officer has the responsibility of supervising the activities of individuals that have been convicted of crimes and released on probation. A probation officer is very similar to a parole officer in that both types of law enforcement deal with convicts, but probation officers primarily deal with convicts of lesser crimes who have not been recently discharged from state or federal prison. Probation officers work with local, state, and federal prison systems. When a convict is released from state or federal prison, in most cases they are discharged from physical custody but may remain in the custody of the state by way of parole for a period of time.
The job of a probation officer includes helping these individuals find treatment options, gain employment, and tracking the individuals overall progress when they are released from prison.
Probation officers will document their findings and hold meetings with other individuals responsible for the case to discuss different options that may be available. Ultimately, the job of a probation officer is to serve as a mentor and supervisor for offenders who are trying to rejoin society.
One of the skills that a person must have in order to be successful in this career is communication ability. This job requires a person to communicate not only with the offender, but also with the offender’s friends and family, the judge that is overseeing the case, and treatment specialists, all on a regular basis.
Training and Education
The minimum education required for probation officers is a bachelor’s degree in a human service related field. The best degree to obtain if you are interested in becoming a probation officer is either in social work or in criminal justice. Other options include sociology, criminology, or psychology. Individuals that are currently employed and would like to study for this may find several online degree programs available that can be completed from their home.
The exact requirements for training will vary based on the state and the employer. Typically, most places will require an individual to have some type of law enforcement training before they apply for a probation officer job.
One of the ways to gain experience is to serve as a police officer or corrections officer, or in a law enforcement position that is similar to these. Those individuals that are still students may want to consider an internship in the field of social work or counseling. These internships are great for improving skills that are necessary for the position.
After completing a degree and applying for a job, a person will likely have to attend a training program for their state in order to become employed as a probation officer. Each state has different requirements that must be met to work in these positions.
Salary & Career Outlook
Before being hired, most applicants for a probation officer position should expect to go through an extensive interview process as well as a thorough background check.
According to the Bureau of Labor of Statistics (BLS) the field has 86,810 active employees with an average yearly salary for probation officers in the United States at $52,910 (2013). The top ten percent in these positions earn an average of $84,160 and the bottom ten percent earns an average of $32,010 per year. The exact salary a person earns in this field will depend on their location, the employer, and the person’s education and experience. Salaries tend to go up the longer a person works in the field.