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How to Become a Parole Officer: Step-by-Step Guide

A parole officer is a law enforcement specialist who works with individuals who have been released from prison after serving a partial sentence. Officers supervise and monitor parolee progress as they complete the terms of parole as set by the court. Becoming a parole officer can involve months of education and training.

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Five Steps Toward Becoming a Parole Officer

Step 1: Decide if Becoming a Parole Officer is Right for You

Individuals interested in becoming a parole officer should first decide if they are suited for this career. Parole officers may have to travel and conduct fieldwork in dangerous areas while interacting with criminal offenders. Drug testing is one of the prominent duties of parole officers, and they may need to collect urine samples from their clients. The case loads for parole officers are often heavy, with frequent court deadlines to meet.

Essential personal qualities needed by parole officers are patience under pressure, solid communication skills and the ability to be authoritative. Physical endurance and emotional stability can also be factors in choosing this career, due to the job's long hours and the emotional impact found in many parolee situations.

Step 2: Enter a Degree Program

Most states require parole officers to hold an associate's or bachelor's degree, often in criminal justice or a related subject area such as social work or sociology. Some states, in conjunction with local community colleges, have developed degree programs that train students to meet state specifications for parole officers. A graduate degree is usually required to obtain employment as a parole officer at the federal level.

Step 3: Pass a Background Investigation

Because this job requires working inside the criminal justice system, thorough background checks for job candidates are mandatory. Checks typically involve combing through law enforcement records for misdemeanors, felony charges, convictions and/or driving violations. Possible affiliations with local or national gangs may also be checked. Often credit reports are included in background checks, as well as verification of personal and professional references.

Step 4: Pass an Exam

After qualifying for the job, parole officer candidates must pass an exam to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the criminal justice and court system. Exams can be administered by cities, counties, states or by the federal government, and they cover general parole and institution-specific topics. Most exams are a combination of multiple-choice questions and essay questions designed to test writing and reading comprehension skills.

Step 5: Complete a Training Program

Most states require newly-hired parole officers to attend a training program, either before reporting to work or during their first year of employment. Officers are typically paid while attending the programs, which often run between 4-6 weeks.

Programs may consist of workshops, seminars, fitness training and firearms practice. Some states require parole officers to periodically attend refresher and re-training programs in order to be eligible for career advancement opportunities.

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