Should I Become a Parole Officer?
|Degree Level||Associate or bachelor's degree; graduate degree to work at the federal level|
|Degree Field(s)||Criminal justice, social work, sociology, or a related subject|
|License/Certification||Must pass written exam prior to hire|
|Experience||4-6 week training program required|
|Key Skills||Patience under pressure; solid communication skills; ability to be authoritative; physical endurance and emotional stability; clean background and credit check|
|Job Outlook (2014-2024)||4% growth|
|Mean Annual Salary (2015)||$54,080|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Parole officers are law enforcement specialists who work with individuals who have been released from prison after serving a partial sentence. These officers supervise and monitor parolee progress as they complete the terms of parole as set by the court. They might 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, as they might need to collect urine samples from their clients. The caseloads for parole officers are often heavy with frequent court deadlines to meet.
Essential personal qualities needed by parole officers include patience under pressure, solid communication skills, and the ability to be authoritative. Physical endurance and emotional stability also are factors to consider in choosing this career due to the job's long hours and the emotional impact found in many parolee situations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies parole officers under the larger category of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. In May 2015, these professionals made a mean annual wage of $54,080, per BLS figures.
Earn a Degree
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.
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Complete Background Checks
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 driving violations. Possible affiliations with local or national gangs also might be checked. Often credit reports are included in background checks, as well as verification of personal and professional references.
Pass a Government Exam
To qualify for the job, parole officer candidates must pass an exam to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the criminal justice and court systems. 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.
Finish 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 and 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.
Parole officers are an essential part of the criminal justice system and gain valuable knowledge and expertise in the field. With experience, entry level parole officers may advance to a supervisor or manager position. However, the BLS anticipates only 4% growth in jobs for probation officers and correctional specialists between 2014 and 2024.
In summary, parole officers typically need an undergraduate degree in addition to passing background checks and a government exam and completing a training program.