Become a Chief Probation Officer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a chief probation officer. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in criminal justice.

Do I Want to Be a Chief Probation Officer?

Probation officers counsel criminal offenders sentenced to corrective programs in lieu of jail to prevent them from reengaging in criminal behavior. A chief probation officer oversees the operations of a county or state's probation services and facilities.

Almost all probation officers work full-time schedules for local or state law enforcement organizations. Overtime hours are prevalent in this career, as officers must be available to meet with their parolees at irregular hours. Some parolees flee, leading to travel and extensive paperwork in such cases. The job can be very stressful due to deadlines, heavy workloads, difficult parolees, and a risk of personal endangerment. The career can also be highly satisfying, as convicts who successfully reintegrate into society often credit their parole officers for their help in doing so.

Job Requirements

Many states require that probation officers be at least 21 years old and have a bachelor's degree in a field relevant to correctional work. However, a master's degree and work experience may be required to advance to the position of chief officer. Some employers require that officers pass exams or become certified. The following table contains the main requirements to work as a chief probation officer:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree usually required, but master's may be preferred*
Degree Field Criminal justice, psychology, social work or a related field*
Licensure and/or Certification Varies, may need to be a certified peace or detention officer**
Experience Several years of experience working as a probation officer***
Key Skills Emotional stability, organizational and communication skills*, knowledge of criminal justice system, relevant court rules, criminal law codes and probation rules***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Indiana Judicial Center, Arizona Judicial Branch; ***County of San Diego and State of Virginia jobs postings (October 2012).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that earning a bachelor's degree can help lead to an entry-level career as a probation officer. Relevant fields of study include psychology, social work, criminal justice, corrections or behavioral science. Many of these programs include instruction about counseling criminal offenders.

Step 2: Meet Workplace Qualifications

Each probation officer job position has different requirements. For example, candidates must often pass examinations, complete training programs or earn a specific type of certification to prove successful completion of a training program.

In states where certification is required, colleges may offer courses specifically designed for probation officers. These courses may provide students with knowledge about the basics of probation work, including issues of legality, probation officer responsibilities and techniques to control an offender.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Experience in probationary work is essential for promotion to the position of chief probation officer. In fact, the BLS states that many correctional employers require that new employees work in a training capacity for up to a year before being granted a permanent position. This experience may be in the form of social work, counseling or even criminal investigations. Additionally, some state or county agencies may require chief probation officer candidates to have managerial experience in the field.

Step 4: Attain a Master's Degree

The BLS notes that, in addition to work experience, a master's degree may be useful or necessary to advance to the position as a chief probation officer. Master's degree programs in criminal justice, psychology or social work can provide the advanced knowledge necessary for higher-level probation positions.

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