How To Become A Probation Officer
Career Video: Probation Officer
Are you interested in helping people turn their lives around? Do you want to provide guidance to formerly incarcerated youth and adults, so they can transition to productive and fulfilling lives outside incarceration? Would you like to help ensure the public’s safety by monitoring and mentoring people who have committed crimes? If you would like to make a difference in the lives of individuals, their families, and the public, and you have a passion for criminal justice, then a career as a probation officer might be right for you.
Why Become A Probation Officer
Probation officers work with a variety of individuals. They may work with people who must meet certain requirements of the courts, instead of spending time in jail or prison. Probation officers may also work with people who are released from prison, either for time served or parole. Probation officers work with a variety of people, including juvenile offenders, petty criminals, and former inmates who may be dangerous.
Their first duty is ensure safety, both of the public and criminal offenders; however, they also provide invaluable services to help people change their circumstances. Probation officers are assigned individuals who need to avoid incarceration, and so the officer will coordinate rehabilitative, healthcare, education, and employment services to meet these individuals’ needs. They perform alcohol and drug screenings, conduct interviews, monitor the activities of those individuals assigned to them, and help to ensure positive assimilation into the public.
Probation officers must have the following traits to be competent in their field:
- Excellent communicator
- Great writing skills
- Sound judgment
- Emotionally stable
- Critical thinker
- Investigative nature
Probation Officer Work Environment
Probation officers work for local, state, and federal governments, in the criminal justice system. They typically work in the field, meaning that they travel often and meet directly with their assigned offenders and other individuals who are involved with the offenders. They may travel to places of employment, homes, schools, or other institutions to gather information regarding the offenders or to supervise them.
Because of the nature of their work, probation officers must maintain safe practices, as they may face violent situations. Many carry firearms, pepper spray, tasers, or other protective equipment to ensure their safety.
The role of a probation officer is a stressful one; travel, safety concerns, extensive paperwork, and the possibility of being on call can lead to erratic and long hours. Although a typical day may be during normal business hours, police officers and courts may need their services in the evenings, on weekends, or during holidays. They may also have to respond to emergency situations.
Although the nature of this job is stressful and potentially dangerous, many probation officers find their work to be fulfilling. They ensure the safety of the public, while helping individuals change their lives for the better.
Probation Officer Salary
In 2012, the median annual salary of a probation officer was $48,190. The bottom 10 percent of earners made $31,590, while the top 10 percent made $83,410. Geographical location and experience may dictate level of pay. In addition, a high percentage of probation officers belong to unions.
Probation Officer Career Outlook
In the next 10 years, job growth will remain unchanged for probation officers. While this isn’t a high growing field, it is not in decline, either. There will always be a need to assimilate formerly incarcerated individuals into the public, and alternative methods of punishment, beyond incarceration, will always exist.
Although there may not be a great demand for probation officers, positions are always opening as officers move locations and on to different jobs. Qualified candidates should have no problem finding gainful employment.
Probation Officer Degree
Probation officers must have, at least, a bachelor’s degree to work in this capacity, although some employers prefer individuals with master’s degrees or higher. State governments also require specific training and that candidates meet a variety of requirements.
Step 1: Complete an undergraduate degree. Those looking to become a probation officer must obtain a bachelor’s degree in a field related to this line of work. Programs in criminal justice, social work, and behavioral sciences are recommended to fulfilling the educational requirements needed to work with this population.
Aspiring officers may want to pursue a master’s degree for employment in supervisory positions or to gain an edge over employment competition. Social work, criminal justice, and psychology are all great fields of study for probation officers.
Note: Depending on the population with which one hopes to work, it is recommended that an aspiring officer take courses applicable to effectively working with that population.
Step 2: Complete relevant training program. Each state has varying requirements; however, most involve passing a certification examination in addition to completing a training program. This training will be directly applicable to an officer’s future work, such as domestic violence offenses, juvenile delinquency, and substance abuse. It may be necessary to work in a probationary period, for up to one year, before obtaining permanent employment.
Step 3: Meet state requirements. Most states require that probation officers meet the following criteria:
- Age 21 or older
- Pass a drug test
- Pass a criminal background check (felony free)
- Valid driver’s license
- Cannot be older than 37 years (for federal employment)