At the end of 2012, there were 6.94 million Americans being supervised by the correctional system. However, around 3.94 million offenders were supervised within their own communities, either on probation or parole.
Probation officers oversee offenders sentenced to probation (individuals who fulfill the conditions of sentences given by the court) and parolees (individuals released from prison that are required to serve parole board ordered sentences). Sometimes offenders are given probation instead of jail time or additional jail time. The parole or probation environment allows offenders to provide community service and enables them to live with their families. Creating an effective and safe probation environment is the job of probation officers.
Probation officers generally oversee 20 to 100 cases at once -- the number varies by jurisdiction. Higher risk cases require much more time.
Related positions include:
- Parole officers: similar to probation officers, parole officers help those who have been recently released from prison transition back into society.
- Correctional treatment specialists: also known as case managers or correctional counselors, these specialists counsel offenders and provide supervision or rehabilitation plans
- Pretrial services officers: these individuals conduct pretrial investigations that aid in sentencing, supervision and rehabilitation plans for offenders
Additionally, duties may vary depending on whether the position is at the local, state or federal level.
Various Job Titles of Probation Officers
|Correctional Counselor||Parole Officer|
|Juvenile Probation Officer||Parole Agent|
|Deputy Juvenile Officer||Correctional Probation Officer|
|Probation Counselor||Correctional Casework Specialist|
|Juvenile Correctional Officer||Pretrial services officers|
A Probation Officer
Probation officers -- also known as community supervision officers -- strive to regenerate their clients. They meet with their clients on a regular basis to evaluate their progress and check their activities. Probation officers help their clients rehabilitate by offering them counseling and helping them acquire education, housing and a job. They usually work in juvenile, adult or family divisions of probation departments.
A probation officer also has the task of writing pre-sentence reports for judges. The reports are based on investigative work of the offender's background. They sometimes give testimonies at parole board and pretrial hearings in order to provide clarification for the reports. They also investigate violations of court-ordered sentences.
Probation officers provide reports to the courts regarding their client's behavior. This entails maintaining constant personal contact with the offender and their families; assisting them in locating resources for employment, education, or therapy; providing counseling to offenders and their families; and monitoring their whereabouts using electronic tracking devices.
A Parole Officer
A parole officer should have strong written and verbal communication skills in order to write precise pre-sentence reports and to argue them in a courtroom. They need to be able to deal with people from a variety of backgrounds. The job is sometimes stressful due to large caseloads. Parole officers often visit jails, courts and prisons. They also visit the work settings and residences of their clients. These officers work 40 hours per week but sometimes are required to work overtime.
A Correctional Treatment Specialist
Correctional treatment specialists work in jails and prisons or in parole or probation agencies. Those that work in jails and prisons evaluate the inmates' progress. They also collaborate with others to develop parole and release plans. Correctional treatment personnel also develop educational and training programs to provide job skills. They also provide counseling and other services. Correctional treatment specialists may also be known as case managers or drug treatment specialists.
- Supervise offenders that have been released from incarceration
- Supervise and investigate defendants who have not yet been sentenced to a term of incarceration
- Develop and maintain a case folder for each offender
- Collect information about offender's background
- Write reports regarding offender's progress
- Develop rehabilitation programs for clients
- Inform offenders of requirements of conditional release
- Recommend remedial actions or begin court actions if offenders have not complied with the terms of probation or parole
- Arrange for mental health, medical and substance abuse treatment services
- Arrange for employment, education, housing, counseling and other services
Probation Officer Career Outlook
Because the work of a probation officer can often come with considerable stress, risk and relatively low pay, the number of available positions generally exceeds the amount of interested, qualified applicants. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment for probation officers will actually decrease -1 percent during the decade leading up to 2022.
According to the BLS, annual mean wages for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists averaged out to $48,440 in 2013, although the top ten percent of these professionals earned a mean wage of $84,160. The BLS reported that the three states with the highest annual mean wages for probation officers were:
- California: $76,540
- Connecticut: $75,530
- New Jersey: $74,470
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Median annual wages, May 2012
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012
- State and local governments
- Office of the U.S. District Court
Probation Officer Training
Probation officers are typically required to have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, social work, psychology or a related subject. For candidates that do not have related experience, some employers seek those with a master's degree. What counts as related experience varies by employers. Some types of related experience are pretrial services, probation, corrections, criminal investigations, parole, counseling, social work and substance abuse treatment. Typically, candidates need to pass oral, written and psychological examinations. Those that have been convicted of felonies may not be eligible for employment in the occupation.
Most probation officers and some correctional treatment specialists must complete a training program sponsored by the Federal government or their State government. After the training program has been completed they may have to take a certification test. Typically, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists have to work as trainees or in a probationary period for up to a year before they are offered a permanent job.
- A Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, Psychology or a related field
- In some situations, prior professional experience in such fields as corrections, criminal investigations, counseling, social work or other probation or pretrial services positions
- A state or federal government-sponsored training program for correctional specialists, followed by experience as a trainee or apprentice for up to one year
- Rigorous written, oral and physical examinations to ensure candidates are in excellent physical and emotional shape
Of course, a significant amount of probation officer training also takes place on the job.
Additional requirements for probation officers include:
- Must be at least 21 years old but; for federal positions, not older than 37
- No record of felony convictions
- Completion of a successful background check and lie detector test
- Hold a valid driver's license
Because of the amount of administrative work involved in this position, excellent communications skills are a must, as are an understanding of the law, familiarity with computers and strong interpersonal skills. Promotions and salary increases are generally earned through solid, consistent performance on the job, breadth of experience and, in some cases, advanced degrees in Criminal Justice, Social Work, Psychology or a related subject.
Resources for Probation Officers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics - Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
- American Probation and Parole Association
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013," Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211092.htm
"Total U.S. Correctional Population Declined in 2012 for Fourth Year," Bureau of Justice Statistics, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/cpus12pr.cfm