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Becoming a Probation Officer: Job Description and Skills Needed

Sep 04, 2019

Probation officer responsibilities are primarily related to helping probationers fulfill the terms of their probation. Explore probation officer job description, including the required skill sets, the salary and common career paths.

Probation Officer Job Description

Probation officers are specialists who work with people in the criminal justice system who have been placed on probation. These officers, also called community supervision officers, provide services that aid in the rehabilitation of convicts to ensure they are no longer a threat to the community. Below, we discuss different aspects of the career in more detail.

Probation Officer Duties

Most probation officers specialize in working with adults or juveniles, and are required to meet with the probationer on a regular basis. During these meetings, probation officers will generally develop a rehabilitation treatment plan and then monitor a probationer's progress. Other probation officer responsibilities may include:

  • Interviewing probationers' family and friends to examine progress
  • Ensuring compliance to probation terms
  • Writing reports
  • Testing probationers for drugs
  • Providing probationers with resources to help with rehabilitation
  • Offering counseling
  • Testifying in court concerning probationers

How to Become a Probation Officer

Becoming a probation officer generally requires formal education, training, and experience. Most probation officers are also required to be at least 21 years of age, pass background checks and drug tests, and hold a valid driver's license.

Typically, probation officers need at least a bachelor's degree. Different jurisdictions may require specific degrees, but usually probation officers need to major in an area like behavioral science, criminal justice, or social work. There are some degree programs, such as sociology, that may offer criminology as an area of concentration. Some of these bachelor's degree programs, like those in criminal justice, are available in online formats.

Most states require aspiring probation officers to complete a training program and/or pass an exam to become a certified probation officer. Some probation officers may hold temporary positions while training. Depending on the state, there may even be levels of permanent positions for probation officers that are based on their level of education and experience, and this allows officers to continue to advance their careers. Those wishing to become juvenile probation officers may need to complete specialized training to work with minors, depending on the state.

Required Skills for Probation Officer Jobs

Outside of the technical skills that probation officers typically learn through their education and training, such as skills in criminal justice, psychology, rehabilitation, and case management, it is also important for them to further develop interpersonal and critical-thinking skills. Due to the rougher nature of the field, probation officers must be emotionally stable and should have strong abilities in areas like:

  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Planning
  • Relationship-building

Probation Officer Salary and Job Outlook

In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the average annual salary for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $58,790. Most of these professionals worked for the state government, excluding schools and hospitals, and made an average salary of $57,240. Another website, PayScale.com, reported that the average salary for a probation officer as of August 2019 was $42,348.

The BLS also reported a job outlook of 6% for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists from 2016 to 2026. This rate is as fast as the national average.

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