Individuals interested in working with those convicted of crimes may opt to pursue a career as a probation officer. This career typically requires a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, psychology, social work, or a related social science field; however, in some states it may be possible to enter this field with a high school diploma and experience. Most positions require additional special training and a certification exam.
Probation officers supervise and report on the activities of offenders who've been granted probation in place of jail time. Most probation officers hold a bachelor's degree in a field such as criminal justice, psychology, or social work, though according to the APPA, some states do consider candidates with a high school diploma and relevant experience. Most probation officers must also complete a state or federal training program, pass a certification exam, and may need to work as trainees before entering into a long-term position.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Other Requirements||State training program and certification exam|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||4%|
|Average Salary (2015)*||$54,080|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Probation officers conduct pre-sentencing investigations to assess an offender's potential for rehabilitation and to determine the level of probation. Officers evaluate the offender based upon: interviews with the offender's family, employers and counselors; reports received from electronic tracking devices; and the results of drug testing. In probation hearings, officers report the evaluation's findings, which are used to establish conditions of probation.
Job Categories and Workload
Probation officers can work exclusively with either adult or juvenile offenders. However, in smaller jurisdictions, officers can be assigned to supervise both. In some locales, probation officers must also perform the duties of parole officers.
The BLS reports that the caseloads of probation officers often vary by agency and/or offenders' needs. However, according to the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), most agencies have implemented a case management system known as the 'workload model' to balance caseloads.
Nature of the Job and Working Conditions
The work of a probation office is potentially hazardous and stressful. Working with offenders who may be violent poses safety risks to officers. Since probation officers carry firearms and are perceived as law enforcement officials, they may be met with hostility in certain communities, which can further heighten stress and increase safety concerns.
Officers are required to collect and transport urine samples for drug testing. Exposure to biohazards places them at risk of contracting communicable diseases, further increasing the dangerous nature of the job. Officers may encounter hazards and can experience episodes of stress while performing their routine job duties.
Educational Requirements and Training
Prospective probation officers typically earn either a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, psychology, social work, or a related social science field. However, the APPA reports that some states will consider candidates with at least a high school diploma and experience.
According to the BLS, most probation officers must finish a state or federal government training program, pass a certification exam and may be required to work as trainees for up to a year before being offered a permanent position. Many employers provide supplemental training, especially in areas involving safety.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The BLS anticipated jobs for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists to increase by 4% between 2014 and 2024. As sentencing guidelines change and jail overcrowding remains an issue, the demand for probation officers will increase; however, positions in this field are limited by government funding, accounting for the decline in openings. The BLS noted in 2015 that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists brought home, on average, $54,080 annually.
Probation officers play a crucial role in overseeing the adjustment of convicted criminals when they are released from jail. They are required to carry firearms, and their work is often stressful. Some of their tasks include collecting urine samples for drug tests, reviewing the living environment of individuals on their caseload, interviewing employers, and monitoring electronic tracking devices when assigned to their clients.