Career ProfileProbation Officer

What They Do

A student who considers himself or herself to be an encouraging and organized person with solid listening, communication, critical-thinking, decision-making skills may be a good fit as a probation officer. Those with experience in corrections, criminal investigations, substance abuse treatment, social work or counseling will have an advantage over other candidates in this field.

It is the important work of a probation officer to monitor offenders with the goal of preventing criminals from committing additional crimes. They work with people who are given probation in lieu of jail sentences, or with people who have been released from prison. Sometimes, a probation officer will work with people who are still incarcerated and preparing to leave jail or prison.

Specific job responsibilities of a probation officer include:

• Assessing criminals to determine the best rehabilitation plan
• Providing job training
• Administering drug tests and counseling
• Monitoring offenders and their development
• Compiling progress reports

Probation officers can also be called community supervision officers. Most work exclusively with juveniles or adults.

Expectations: Salary and Career Outlook

The annual salary for probation officers will vary greatly based on where they work, the size of their department, their experience and other factors. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median wage for probation officers in 2012 was $48,190. While the growth of this career is expected to show little or no change until 2022, interested students must consider growth is based on the amount of state and local government funding allocated to corrections in their area.

After gaining experience and working as a successful probation officer for a period of time, advancement opportunities come in the form of promotions to supervisory positions.

Workplace Environment

Nearly all probation officers work for state or local government. It is normal for them to experience dangerous clients, and be required to work with family members, as well as friends of their clients who may be emotional and uncooperative. Especially when just starting out, it’s sometimes common for probation officers to be assigned to work in a high-crime area, or in jails or prisons with a high rate of violence.

One of the more stressful aspects of being a probation officer is having to meet deadlines set by the court. This usually means a large amount of paperwork. It’s also part of the job to do home and employment inspections and sometimes even property searches. For this reason, some probation officers carry a gun and/or pepper spray to protect themselves.

For all of these reasons, a probation officer’s job is a stressful one. That said, it can also be a rewarding career; most find personal satisfaction in counseling troubled people and aiding in their becoming upstanding citizens of the community.

Education, Special Skills and Other Qualifications

A bachelor’s degree is required to become a probation officer. Earning a B.A. in Criminal Justice or an M.A. in Criminal Justice Leadership is a great way to open doors to this position.

In addition to a degree, most employers require candidates to pass oral, written and psychological exams. It’s also typical for applicants to have to complete a training program, after which comes a certification test. Some areas require probation officers to work as trainees for a period of time before they’re offered a permanent job.

Most states require applicants must be 21 years old, but not yet 37, and have a clean criminal record. Applicants must also submit to drug testing.