How to Become a Probation Officer: Step-by-Step Guide
Learn how to become a probation officer. Find out about the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in probation.
Probation officers ensure that adult or juvenile offenders meet conditions stipulated by the courts in lieu of incarceration. Additionally, 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; they're usually employed on a full-time basis, and long, irregular hours are common. Probation officers work with a range of parolees, some of which may be dangerous. As such, the job carries a measure of risk, especially during those times when a probation officer must track a parolee who has fled and bring him/her back to the system.
Hiring requirements for probation officers vary by agency and state. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2015 probation officers earned a median annual salary of $49,360. A 4%, or slower than average, increase in employment is expected between 2014 and 2024, as reported by the BLS.
Although the prerequisites for being a probation officer vary by state, according to the BLS most state probation agencies require candidates to be 21 years of age or older and have a valid driver's license. All applicants must pass a competency exam, criminal background check, and drug test. Additionally, aspiring probation officers may undergo physical and mental health exams.
Ideally, probation officers should have good communication, critical thinking and decision making skills; they should also be emotionally stable and well-organized.
Typically, probation officers need a bachelor's or master's degree in behavioral science, criminal justice or social work. Officers usually need a master's degree to advance in the field. Aspiring probation officers may apply to criminal justice programs with concentrations in corrections. Topics of study often include criminal law, psychology, social problems and violence.
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.
Some employers may require potential probation officers to have prior work experience in a related field such as counseling, criminal investigations or substance abuse treatment. Candidates for employment may also have previous work experience in corrections, parole or pretrial services. While this work background may not always be required, it can help aspiring probation officers learn communication and critical-thinking skills.
Most newly hired probation officers must complete a state-mandated training after meeting the other job requirements. Training may begin with classroom instruction in state codes and court probation procedures. Depending on the state, training may also include additional weeks of basic officer and firearms training. New probation officers may also have to pass a certification test. They may also have to complete a one-year trainee period before obtaining a permanent position. Working probation officers may also be required to participate in continuing education.
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 programs, as well as other resources for professional growth and advancement in probation, parole and community corrections.
If you're still interested in becoming a probation officer, you'll need a bachelor's or master's degree in behavioral science, criminal justice or social work. Once employed, you'll earn a median annual salary of $49,360, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2015.