Career Story: Probation Officer For A State Corrections Agency

Probation Officer For A State Corrections Agency

Job Title: Probation Officer

Type of Company: I work for the Virginia Department of Corrections, Community Corrections Division, and we monitor probationers or parolees.

Education: Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Science in Education and Counseling

Previous Experience: I worked as a social worker in child protective services for six years after college and during that period earned my Master's degree. I then worked as a case manager for a health practitioners' monitoring program for three years. I then worked as a counselor in a private counseling firm for another three years. I left that to work for the state again because I needed the benefits.

Job Tasks: I monitor a caseload of approximately 70 people convicted of felonies who have been released to the community. On average, we see them in the office once per month and call some in randomly for drug screenings. We make random field visits to verify their residence and employment. We speak with their families, friends, and employers, and work with community agencies to get them help, so that they won't feel the need to break the law to get their basic needs met. I am frequently in court for violation hearings and to present pre-sentencing reports that we prepare for the courts. These are background investigations that the judges order when defendants are convicted but before they've been sentenced. That way, when a person does get sentenced, the judge knows something about them: about their work history, education, family history, physical history, economic situation, and a substance abuse and mental health screening.

I also prepare sentencing guidelines for the judges, which assign numbers to situations and go into a mathematical formula to show the judges how all the judges across the state might sentence a person in that situation. We try to keep our probationers out of jail, in the community and working, because that is usually what is best for the community. If someone continues to get into trouble, we issue warrants and have them incarcerated.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of the job are the variety -- it is never boring -- and my coworkers. I really enjoy their personalities and how we all support each other. I also like balancing desk work, field work, and court, even though sometimes it gets overwhelming.

The worst parts of the job involve times when probationers get into big trouble, or when several people mess up at the same time. Also, the pay is very low.

Job Tips: This is not a generally the right job for people right out of college. Probation officers have a lot of responsibility and the more life experience you have going into it, the better prepared you are to relate to the probationers' situations without judging them but while objectively assessing community safety. Also, you have to be very professional in court, and recognize that judges will sometimes agree with your recommendations and sometimes won't. Either way, you are their eyes and ears in the community and you need to present the information well in court.

Additional Thoughts: I thought when I left counseling and returned to case management, that I would be bored and less challenged intellectually. I am happy to say that I was wrong, and this job presents new and interesting challenges every day. The further I've gotten into my career, the more my priorities have changed.They're less about salary and job title now than about the ability to enjoy my work while balancing family life.

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