The basic responsibility of a probation officer is to monitor parolees or probationers and to help them adjust to life after release from jail or prison. Probation officers may meet with their clients at their office or at the probationer’s home or workplace. Probation officers help their charges with rehabilitation and reintegration. This includes helping them find job training, education or drug and physical treatment.
Most probation officers work for state and local government. They work with both the court system and the probationers to chart the best course for a positive and productive future. Probation officers may work with a probationer’s family and community in order to communicate and enforce the plan of action for the probationer’s rehabilitation.
Many probation officers choose to specialize in a specific client demographic. Women, juveniles and drug offenders are common specializations. Some officers are assigned with a particular agency that serves a specific population. Other have more of a choice on who they work alongside.
High-stress environments and dangerous situations are a possibility for probation officers. They can work in high-crime locations. Some carry a gun or pepper spray for protection, but that varies on the jurisdiction. Because many probationers are first-time offenders, many are able to live as productive members of society during and after their probation. In some cases, a probation officer facilitates counseling for issues that the probationer experiences like drug abuse or domestic violence.
According to the BLS, the median salary for probation officers is $49,360 a year. Salaries can range from around $32,000 to $86,000. Many probation officers join labor unions. The BLS estimates that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists are more likely to belong to a union than most workers in other occupations.
Jobs for probation officers are expected to increase 4 percent by 2024, which is slower than the average for all occupations, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. However, many job openings will result from retirement or moving to a new position. As with many government-related occupations, funding for probation officers relies on state and local government budgets.
In many states, probation officers need a bachelor’s degree in order to find entry-level employment. There are also competency exams, drug testing and background checks. Many prospective probation officers choose to pursue degrees in social work or criminal justice.
Training is a common job requirement for probation officers. Training programs are usually sponsored by a local, state or federal agency. In some cases, there is an extended period of training for new probation officers before they can take on their first client.
Higher-level security probation officer positions may require a master’s degree. Previous professional experience in corrections, criminal justice and substance abuse counseling may be helpful in the hiring process.