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

Learn how to become a probation officer. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in probation.

Should I Become a Probation Officer?

Probation officers ensure that adult or juvenile offenders meet conditions stipulated by the court in lieu of incarceration. Additionally, those criminals who are released from jail are often put on probation to facilitate a seamless transition back to civilian life. Probation officers conduct interviews, provide employment assistance, and locate rehabilitative services.

Probation officers work for state and local governments; these positions are usually associated with a measure of job security, good pay, and benefits. Probation officers work with a range of parolees, some of which may be dangerous. This job, accordingly, carries a measure of risk, especially during those times when a probation officer must track a parolee who has fled and bring him back to the system.This career is high risk and high stress. Probation officers usually work at least full-time and long, irregular hours are common. The requirements that must be met to become a probation officer vary by agency and state.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard
Degree Fields Criminal justice, social work or a related area
Experience Related work in probation, corrections, social work or a comparable discipline
Training Must complete a state-mandated training program, some states may also require continuing education
Key Skills Communication, critical-thinking, sound judgment, organizational skills, must be 21-37 years of age, ability to pass a criminal background check and undergo physical and mental health evaluations.
Salary $49,060 per year (Median salary from May, 2014 for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Statistics

Step 1: Fulfill General Requirements

The prerequisites for being a probation officer vary by state, but according to the BLS, most state probation agencies require candidates to be 21 years of age or older. However, applicants cannot be older than 37 years of age. All applicants must pass a criminal background check for felony convictions. Additionally, probation officer candidates usually get tested for drug use, and they undergo physical and mental health exams.

Success Tip:

  • Do your research. Be sure to research the qualifications mandated by the state prior to beginning this career path. Understanding the prerequisites can help determine if becoming a probation officer is the right path.

Step 2: Earn a Degree

Typically, probation officer candidates need a bachelor's or master's degree. Some employers may also require 1-2 years of work experience. Possible majors include criminal justice, social work, psychology or counseling. Aspiring probation officers may apply to criminal justice programs with concentrations in corrections. Topics of study often include social problems, personality psychology, criminal law and violence.

Success Tip:

  • Find an internship. Some colleges and universities recommend completing an internship prior to graduation. These may or may not count towards your degree. An internship is an excellent way for probation officers to get their foot in the door and better understand the demands of the job.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Experience working in a related field, such as substance-abuse treatment or counseling, may help with employment opportunities. Work experience in these fields is desirable to potential employers. While this work background may not be required, it will help aspiring probation officers learn communication and critical-thinking skills.

Step 4: Complete a Probation Officer Training Program

Most newly hired probation officers must complete government-sponsored training after meeting the other job requirements. Training may begin with a week or two of classroom instruction in state codes and court-probation procedures. Upon completion, students may have to pass a certification test. Depending on the state, training may also include additional weeks of basic officer and firearms training. Probation officers may also be required to complete continuing education periodically.

Success Tip:

  • Be sure to complete the training program in time. Time restrictions to complete the probation officer training program vary by state, but individuals are generally required to enroll in the state-certified program within the first six months of employment. Newly hired probation officers should make sure to enroll in a program in the right amount of time.

Step 5: Join a Professional Organization

Aspiring probation officers may consider joining a professional membership organization, such as the American Parole and Probation Association (APPA), which offers a variety of benefits including additional training, networking opportunities and career development, as well as other resources for professional growth and advancement in probation, parole and community corrections.

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