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Probation and parole officers play pivotal roles in the lives of people who are on probation or parole. They are meant to monitor and provide guidance to the individuals they are in charge of. Being a probation/parole officer is a position that involves leading by example. Many have a law enforcement background and have a degree that falls into the criminal justice or legal category.
As a probation officer, you will be dealing with first-time offenders as well as hardened criminals. You will be the determining factor as to whether or not an offender is acclimating to their freedom and returning to society as a responsible and productive citizen. You will also be the one they turn to if they begin to encounter any problems.
What Is a Probation/Parole Officer?
A probation officer and a parole officer are two different things. They are similar, however. A probation officer monitors individuals who have either been released from jail and are finishing their sentence on probation or have been given probation as a way to serve their time without having to go to jail.
A parole officer works with inmates who have been in prison and then released on parole. Parole is similar to probation in that it is a way for a parolee to serve the remainder of their sentence outside of prison. Individuals who are on probation/parole must follow strict guidelines until they finish their time. They must report to their probation/parole officer on a regular basis and may need to submit to mandatory drug tests.
What Are the Duties of a Probation Officer?
A probation officer has several duties. They meet regularly with their probation clients. They also make random visits to the person’s home and workplace. Appearing in court is also a part of their duties. Probation officers also create rehabilitation plans and provide resources that assist with job training and getting back into the swing of day-to-day living. Substance abuse counseling is also part of the equation.
On the other side of the equation, it is up to a probation officer to assist law enforcement in keeping track of individuals on probation. They maintain a file that must be updated regularly so that it contains the most accurate and up-to-date information. If a probation officer determines that a person has violated their probation, they are obligated to file a report with law enforcement and provide the necessary details. Depending on the severity of the probation violation, their probation may be terminated and the individual will be returned to jail where they will serve the rest of their sentence.
Federal Probation Officers vs State Probation Officers
Federal probation officers provide probation supervision for individuals who have been released from federal prison. This is also known as parole. Federal probation/parole officers also play a role in investigating certain crimes and recommending possible sentences for certain types of criminal offenses. A federal probation/parole officer provides many of the same services as a county or city probation officer. This includes job counseling and substance abuse programs to help them stay on track.
County and city probation officers work with offenders who have violated county and city laws. This also includes juvenile offenders. At this level, probation officers also deal with sex offenders, homeless people, and offenders with drug convictions and various misdemeanors. Probation officers also provide many social and human services. They also assist those who are on probation fulfill their community service obligations.
Job Requirements for a Probation Officer
In order to apply to become a probation officer, a person must meet specific requirements. Most people who pursue this type of work have a strong background as corrections officers, police officers, security agents, or correctional treatment specialists. They will also have at least a Bachelor’s degree in homeland security, legal or criminal justice programs. A probation officer at the state level may only require an Associate’s degree.
In addition to having exemplary people skills, a candidate will have to complete an in-depth training program. This can take several months to complete. Candidates must also successfully pass a competency exam and drug test. They must also submit to a criminal background check with no adverse remarks. A good probation officer will work well with law enforcement officers and social workers.
Characteristics of a Probation Officer
A good probation officer will live their life in much the same way as a law enforcement officer. They must live by example. Having exceptional people skills starts with being able to build solid relationships with the people they oversee.
Aspiring probation officers must be active listeners and have the ability to communicate effectively with both offenders as well as legal and law enforcement professionals. Part of their communication skills includes being able to keep accurate and well-organized information on all of the individuals they monitor. Probation officers must be trustworthy, reliable, and as transparent as possible to ensure that the individuals they work with have someone they can turn to if they begin to have difficulty transitioning back into a more normal lifestyle.
When it comes to education requirements, this will be determined by where you work and at what level you plan on being associated with. Federal probation officers are normally more in-depth when it comes to the criminal justice system. They are required to have a Bachelor’s degree or higher and be well-versed in criminal law. Their degree should be in social services, criminal justice, or some type of law. The training they receive before being hired will sometimes be more in-depth than the training a probation officer receives at the state level.
State, county, or city probation officers are normally required to have at least an Associate’s degree in social services, criminal justice, or similar types of educational programs. The applicant will also have to complete a training program at the county/city level. All probation/parole officers must successfully pass a competency exam as well.
Training and Experience
Probation officers must complete training programs in addition to their college degrees. Additional training programs are also required on a regular basis to keep their skills as sharp as possible. They will also receive on-the-job training as well. In many cases, a good portion of the training they receive will involve being paired with an experienced probation officer who has worked with offenders for several years.
The on-the-job training rookie probation officers receive will help them gain valuable experience and insight into how to act if they find themselves in a difficult situation. They are able to work through issues with a seasoned professional who can help them find positive solutions that will provide offenders with the resources they will need to be successful.
Steps You Need to Take to Become a Probation Officer
If you are interested in working within the probation portion of the criminal justice system, you will need to determine where you are in your education and what classes you will need to complete the required degree program. While you are working towards your degree, you can apply for jobs that will give you experience in working with offenders.
Once you have your degree, you can apply for a position with the probation department and begin to start the process. This will include working on any training programs that are assigned to you. You will need to schedule a time to take the competency exam and undergo a criminal background check.
Salary Expectations for a Probation Officer
The median salary for most probation officer positions is approximately $47,250 per year. This will depend on what area of the country you work in and the level of education and experience you have. The range associated with this field of work is $31,000 to $69,000 per year. The low end of the scale represents entry-level positions while the high end represents individuals with ten or more years of experience.
Job Outlook for a Probation Officer
The overall job outlook for individuals who want to pursue a career as a probation officer is very good over the next few years. The expected growth over the next several years is between 4% and 6 % per year. With more and more defendants being put on supervised probation, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists will continue to be in high demand. Individuals who like to serve their communities and are willing to help defendants regain their civilian lives will thrive in this type of work environment.