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Probation Officer Jobs, Careers and Employment Opportunities

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a probation officer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

The job of a probation officer is to make certain a released offender follows the court's obligations of them. Probation officers also typically help the person find work, send them to counseling sessions, talk to their family, and track their activities. This can be stressful, since they can have many cases simultaneously and must deal with the emotional aspects involved with each person.

Essential Information

Probation officers provide the supervision recommended by judges for criminals sentenced to probation. Generally, at least a bachelor's degree is required for probation officer employment, but some employers require additional qualifications such as certification or a master's degree. Most probation officers have degrees in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences, psychology, correctional counseling, or others.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in an applicable subject
Licensure & Certification Certification through state-sponsored training program
Other Requirements Not older than 37 for federal jobs; for all other jurisdictions, must be over age 21
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 4% (slower than average)
Median Salary (2016)* $50,160 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties of a Probation Officer

The job of probation officers is not an easy one. This is partly because they may have caseloads of 100 or more people, especially in urban areas. Their jobs entail seeing that each offender follows the court's instructions. To do so, probation officers may get the offenders involved in mental health or substance abuse services, see that they have necessary medical treatment or give them assistance in finding employment or job training.

The officers must monitor the actions of their clients to be sure they're regularly meeting their obligations. This may involve personal contact at the offender's home, job, counselor's office or in a government office. It may mean interviewing, sometimes even monitoring, family members and friends. Probation officers may also interview treatment providers or employers. Restricting an offender's travel is also often required.

Education and Training

Probation officers are most often employed by state or local governments, sometimes both. Federal jobs are also available. Usually officers specialize in working with either adults or adolescents.

A bachelor's degree is usually required, and an occasional employer may ask for a master's degree. Degrees are usually in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences, psychology or correctional counseling. Knowledge of corrections-related laws is also vital; computer and writing skills are helpful, too. Another essential ability is being able to work under stressful circumstances.

Applicants for probation officer jobs are often tested for their psychological and physical strength and abilities. They must usually be 21 years old or more. Federal agencies will not hire new probation officers over age 37.

Once hired, officers in many locations work for six months to one year before they can become certified probation officers. Careers in the federal government require at least two years of field work. During that period, attendance at a state or federal academy, which can last from 2-12 weeks, may be required. Regular continuing education courses are usually required to maintain certification.

Potential advancement within an agency is usually to a supervisory or correctional treatment specialist position. These positions may require further education.

Job Growth and Salary Information

Because of budget problems and concern over whether imprisonment offers effective rehabilitation, along with retirement of many current employees, more probation jobs are expected to develop, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In 2014, the BLS reported 91,700 jobs available in the United States for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, and anticipated a slow growth of 4% over the ensuing decade to 2024. However, because a relatively small number of people are able to cope with the difficulties of being a probation officer, job turnover still provides ample job opportunities. The median annual salary for this group as of May 2016 was $50,160.

The probation officer is required to have a bachelor's degree or possibly higher in a relevant field, and he or she must gain experience working in a state or federal government agency to become certified. Job prospects will be best for those with the most credentials and experience.


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