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How to Become a Probation Officer

How to Become a Probation Officer

how to become a probation officer
Crime is an unfortunate fact of life. However, not all crimes are treated equally and some people may be sentenced to probation rather than jail for their offenses. It is the job of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists to monitor offenders, ensure they are meeting the requirements of probation or parole, and to prevent them from offending again. As someone employed in this occupation, your duties would include but not be limited to:

  • Evaluate perpetrators; develop and discuss treatment options with them
  • Make arrangements for the offender’s treatment and rehabilitation
  • Regularly meet with offenders and their friends and family
  • Monitor and report on their progress
  • Provide resources to offenders that assist them with rehabilitating themselves

This occupational category is divided into several subcategories that a person looking to enter the industry can specialize in:

Probation officers: Typically people in this position work with juveniles or adults, not both. They oversee the rehabilitation of those on probation, write reports on the offenders’ progress, and make sure they do not cause trouble in the community or reoffend. These officers work strictly with people who have been placed into a probationary program.

Parole officers: These officers work with people who have been released from prison into a parole program. Like probation officers, parole officers work with the parolee to help him or her reenter society. This may include arranging for counseling, substance abuse treatment, and providing access to needed resources. Parole officers also monitor and report on the offender’s progress. They may perform unannounced home visits, drug testing, and electronic monitoring.

Correctional treatment specialists: In an effort to prevent offenders from committing crimes again, correction treatment specialists develop treatment programs designed to rehabilitate them. They may design these programs based on the person’s responses to questionnaires, psychological tests, inmate history and other relevant information. They usually work with probation and parole officers to develop a plan for a person’s reentry into society as well as connect offenders and their families to needed services like counseling.

Pretrial services officers: Before a person is released into the community, it must be determined if he or she presents a risk to the community. Pretrial service officers evaluate offenders waiting for trial and make recommendations regarding bail and sentencing. They also supervise offenders that are let out of jail into the community to ensure they are adhering to the terms of their release.

In some areas, the job duties overlap. For example, officers in rural areas monitor parolees and people on probation. Caseloads are also usually determined by the type of offenders assigned to an officer. An officer that deals with high-risk offenders may only have a few cases while one that deals with low-risk offenders may oversee a lot.

Training You Will Need to Become a Probation Officer

The exact educational requirements to Become a Probation Officer vary depending on the specialization and the type of casework the officer wants to take on. In general, you must have a bachelor’s degree to enter the profession. Accredited programs can be found at community colleges, universities, and technical schools and take up to 4 years to complete. In addition to formal education, candidates may be required to complete additional on-the-job training as required by the state or federal government.

This industry is age restricted. You must be at least 21 years old but no older than 37 to enter. You must also pass a background check, drug test, psychological testing, and certification exams. A valid driver’s license is usually required and you may be required to carry or be eligible for a license for a firearm.

Advancement opportunities are available to those with experience and good performance. Having a master’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, or social work improves your chances of advancing to supervisory or managerial positions.

Personal Qualities Needed to be a Probation Officer

Critical thinking skills: You must be able to assess offenders and determine the best treatment for them that will help them reenter society and avoid reoffending.

Emotional stability: This is a high-stress job that involves working with people who are often hostile, have bad attitudes, and do upsetting things. You must be able to roll with the punches (sometimes literally).

Ability to make decisions: You must be able to consider all of the information available to you and make sound decisions.

Communication skills: It is important that you are able to communicate clearly and interact effectively with people of all stripes. In some areas, it is helpful to know more than one language.

Writing skills: A good portion of your job will include writing reports that will be used by others and placed on a person’s official record. You must have a good command of the language and be able to write detailed reports.

Work Environment

As mentioned before, this is a high-stress occupation for several reasons. Some criminals are dangerous and you may be required to go into high-crime areas and deal with people who are aggressive or uncooperative. In addition to that, you often must meet strict deadlines, conduct personal and property searches, and reel in people who violate the terms of their probation or parole. For safety reasons, many in this industry carry firearms or other personal protection devices.

Despite the disadvantages, many people find this type of work rewarding because a lot of their charges change their lives for the better and become productive citizens of their communities.

Typically, you will be required to work full time and possibly be on-call. Long hours are the norm. Some travel may be required.

Probation Officer Salary

The average salary of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is $47,200. The highest 10% earned $80,750 and the lowest 10% earned $30,920. Health insurance, paid time off, and other perks may be included.

Job Outlook

In 2010, about 93,200 people worked in this industry. A growth of 18% is expected by 2020. Changes in state and federal laws regarding sentencing is the main driver behind the increased need for people in this industry. Budgetary concerns and prison overcrowding are others. As people retire from the industry new officers will need to be hired to replace them. Overall, job prospects are excellent for all those interested in entering the profession.