Probation Officers Jobs - Career Overview, Requirements and Salary Information

Probation officers monitor individuals convicted of crimes who receive probation instead of prison sentences, with a goal of keeping them from reoffending.

By Teresa Schmidt
Posted 2010

Probation officers job description: Probation officers typically work for a city or county government, supervising individuals who have committed crimes and have been placed on probation. Their main responsibility is to keep those convicted of crimes from repeating their offenses.

Monitoring offenders’ behavior is accomplished through personal contact in their homes or at their workplaces. Probation officers may arrange for substance abuse treatment or job training to assist in a client’s rehabilitation. They also work closely with community service agencies, religious organizations and local residents to better observe and mentor their clients.

Most probation officers work with either adults or juveniles, except in smaller jurisdictions, where they may work with both. In some areas, probation officer duties are combined with those of parole officers, and involve monitoring former prisoners who have been released on parole.

Work duties include investigating the backgrounds of individuals accused of crimes before they go to trial, providing reports to the courts and recommending sentences for the accused. At times, probation officers are required to testify in court proceedings. They also update the court on the progress of an offender’s rehabilitation.

Probation Officers Job Summary

  • Most probation officers are employed by state and local government agencies.
  • Government funding drives probation officer employment growth.
  • Entering this field usually requires a bachelor’s degree.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects excellent job opportunities for this occupation.

Work Environment for Probation Officers

Because they work with criminal offenders, a probation officer’s job can be dangerous. Their clients may be difficult or angry at times. Extensive fieldwork and traveling to meet with offenders are requirements. At times, probation officers must collect and transport drug testing samples. These factors can add up to a stressful work environment. However, probation officers also experience many rewards in their occupation by helping people become more productive members of society.

A probation officer’s caseload varies, as does the amount of time spent with each offender. Individuals posing a higher risk to society will demand more time and energy. A 40-hour work week is typical, but overtime and on-call hours may be required.

Education, Training and Licensing

A bachelor’s degree is usually required to enter the probation officer field. Graduating from a college or university program with a bachelor's in criminal justice, psychology, social work or a related field is a generally acceptable path to this career. Employer requirements vary; some prefer to hire candidates with a master’s degree in criminal justice or a bachelor’s degree plus related experience in criminal investigations, pretrial services, corrections, substance abuse treatment, social work or counseling.

Probation officers are often required to complete training programs and become certified by the state in which they work. After they are hired, probation officers in some jurisdictions can be considered trainees for up to one year before a permanent position is offered.

Aspiring probation officers should be in good physical condition; physical tests, along with oral, written and psychological exams, are required by most employers in this field. Applicants are usually required to be at least 21 years old, with a valid driver’s license and no felony convictions. For federal agency positions, applicants must be no older than 37 years of age.

Candidates for probation officer jobs must have good computer skills and be knowledgeable about corrections laws and regulations. Excellent writing skills will be an asset when preparing reports, and good listening and interpersonal abilities will contribute to success in working with offenders.

Probation Officers Jobs Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that probation officers held approximately 86,810 jobs in May 2014. Most of these were with state and local governments. A smaller percentage worked for individual and family services agencies, facilities support services and residential care facilities.

The BLS predicts employment in this field to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Budget concerns and reconsideration of mandatory sentencing guidelines for convicted criminals will affect job growth. Emphasis on rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration will add to the demand for probation officers.

According to the BLS, private detectives and investigators earned a median yearly salary of $49,060 in May 2014. The middle 50% earned between $38,220 and $65,320, while the lowest 10% made $32,810 or less. The highest 10% earned upwards of $83,920 annually.

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