You could consider a career as a probation officer if you have good interpersonal skills and are interested in the criminal justice system. These professionals often need a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, and they must be able to pass a background check and drug screening. A training program leading to certification is another common condition of employment.
Probation officers, also known as community supervision officers, help prevent adult and juvenile offenders from committing future crimes. Most probation officers fulfill both academic and practical training requirements, including an undergraduate degree program in criminal justice or a related field and a state-sponsored probation officer training program. Certification is only required for probation officers in some states.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Other Requirements||Probation officer training program, certification, driver's license|
|Job Growth (2014-2024)*||4% for all probation officers and correctional treatment specialists|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$49,360 for all probation officers and correctional treatment specialists|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Probation officers oversee criminal offenders who receive probation rather than a jail or prison sentence. Duties of probation officers include meeting regularly with offenders to ensure they follow all probation regulations, assisting offenders in getting jobs and recommending treatment services. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), probation officers work in a stressful environment because they interact with dangerous offenders, carry a weapon, meet stringent deadlines and travel extensively.
Many states require probation officers to obtain a bachelor's degree in a field such as criminal justice, social work or psychology, according to the BLS. Aspiring probation officers can increase their chances of employment by completing internships at a counseling center, treatment center or department of corrections. For applicants who lack related work experience, a master's degree is sometimes required.
Most states require probation officers to have a valid driver's license and be at least 21 years old. Convicted felons are immediately disqualified during the application process. Probation officers must have adequate writing, computer and interpersonal skills because they regularly write reports, testify in court, meet with lawyers and visit with the family, friends and employers of offenders.
Training and Certification Requirements
Employers usually require candidates to pass several qualification tests and complete a training program. To participate in training, most employers require applicants to pass a physical and psychological exam, background check and drug screening.
These state or federal government-sponsored training programs are typically completed before employment or within a few months of being hired. The training includes classroom lessons and instruction in self-defense, first aid, legal procedures, report writing, arrest procedures and firearms. Federal probation officers attend in a six-week training program at the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services National Training Academy in Charleston, SC.
In states that require probation officers to earn certification, the certification exam is typically administered after the candidate has completed training. Candidates may be allowed a few attempts to pass the exam.
The BLS reported that the number of jobs for probation officers was expected to grow very little between 2014 and 2024. The 4% growth rate is largely attributed to increased prison populations and longer sentences for offenders. In 2015, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a median salary of $49,360, with the highest average salaries reported in the areas of local and state government.
In summary, probation officers are important liaisons between criminal offenders, their families and employers, and the public justice system. The work can be physically and psychologically demanding. Several training requirements normally must be met before a new probation officer can begin working, including completion of a bachelor's program and a training program through the state or federal government.