Probation officer jobs involve duties that combine law enforcement and social services. Probation officers supervise criminal offenders as they perform their court appointed service in the community. This entails monitoring offenders as they enroll in rehabilitation programs or treatment facilities, and as they conduct their daily affairs. Probation officers must employ a flexible approach to their professional routines, as they are often required to accommodate the instructions of the presiding judicial official.
In addition to ensuring that offenders fulfill the requirements of their probation, officers must also prepare reports and recommendations. They may also be required to assist the offender in repaying victims some form of restitution. They may also administer drug tests to ensure court-mandated sobriety. If offenders fail to comply with any of the probation requirements, probation officers are charged with contacting the proper authorities so that they may detain the offender and possibly revoke the probation.
Probation Officer Salary
As of May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a total of 92,140 probation officers in the U.S. During this time, these professionals earned an average salary of $63,290. Early-career professionals (25th percentile) earned about $46,920, while those at the top of the pay scale (90th percentile) earned about $99,090.
Unlike many law enforcement jobs, a probation officer is usually required to possess at least a bachelor’s degree and because there is on-the-job training, no prior experience in this field is necessary.
Probation Officer Job Description
The probation officer serves the judicial system and the community, so their first priority is to obtain a clear understanding of the offender’s probation requirements. In order to acquire this knowledge, the probation officer may need to attend judicial proceedings, conduct meetings with court officials, or research the documents pertaining to a probationer’s case.
Once the broad’s probation terms are established, a detailed plan must be created and communicated to the offender. Each case is unique, so developing these plans may entail significant consultation with officers of the court. The probationer would not be involved in the planning stages, but may be permitted to discuss the terms of probation with their presiding judge, so some liaison duties may be involved. The probationer’s attorney may also play a significant role during this process, but usually any problem with the terms of probation should be referred to the judge.
As the point of contact between the probationer and the courts, a probation officer is expected to monitor the activities of their charges regularly. This may entail visiting them at work, school or substance treatment facilities. Most probation officers are responsible for several offenders simultaneously; so well developed organizational skills are a must. Court mandated documents verifying that a probationer has satisfied the terms of probation must be completed and submitted to the court. Similarly, any violations that have occurred must also be immediately referred to the presiding judge or police officials.
Some probation officers may be sworn law enforcement officers depending on the jurisdiction. Those officers who have full arrest powers may be required to arrest probation violators and transfer them to detention facilities.
Requirements for Probation Officer Jobs
In order to serve as a probation officer a degree from an accredited four year college is required. These degrees are usually obtained in the following fields of study:
- Criminal justice
- Law enforcement
- Public administration
While no formal training is required to receive consideration for many of these jobs, there are a number of portals for prospective probation officers who wish to gain a competitive advantage in the hiring process. There are a number of preparatory and certification programs that are available through educational institutions and professional associations that can provide valuable knowledge and training.
Each state sets different qualifications for their probation officers. The U.S. Probation & Pretrial Office requires candidates to possess high physical fitness and expertise in close combat. Because many of the individuals being supervised may be prone to violence, the ability to defend one’s self from attack is a highly valuable skill. Normal vision and hearing are typically required. Only those candidates younger than 37 years of age are considered for positions within this agency, but individual states may differ in their requirements.
Many probation offices provide preference for candidates who have served in law enforcement, criminal investigations or substance treatment. If the career is in juvenile probation, experience with minors in school, community or law enforcement settings is beneficial.
Training for Probation Officers
Most starting probation officers are required to obtain some formal or on-the-job training. Many states have developed training programs that include instruction in the following areas
- Justice system
- Confidentiality and information release
- Juvenile detention
- Report writing
- Restitution and financial penalties
- Casework relationships
- Officer safety
Many states require that probation officers undergo periodic training throughout their tenure. This may involve seminars and workshops found within the department or enrolling in courses provided by local colleges or vocational schools.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. Job growth projections from the US Department of Labor-sponsored resource, Projections Central. Figures are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2022.