Probation officers supervise individuals awaiting sentencing for crimes or those who are sentenced to probation. Generally, probation officers perform a different role than parole officers, who supervise recently released prisoners.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects job opportunities for probation officers to grow about 19% between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Given the large number of people processed through the court system, the BLS predicts there will be a continued need for probation officers.
A large part of a probation officer’s job is interviewing the accused and investigating his or her background to help make appropriate sentencing recommendations. If needed, a probation officer may present his or her findings in court or attend hearings to update the court on offenders' efforts at rehabilitation and compliance with the terms of their sentences. Depending on an individual’s sentence, probation officers may meet with offenders weekly or monthly, or monitor their activity and whereabouts via an electronic tracking device. Additionally, probation officers may help their charges obtain substance-abuse treatment or job training.
The job of a probation officer is varied, but can often be stressful. Most work a 40-hour week, although some may put in additional hours to process heavy caseloads or be on-call to supervise and assist their charges whenever needed. Probation officers work with a wide range of offenders, some who may be violent and dangerous. Others may be highly emotional and difficult to work with.
Probation officers also have to manage ongoing deadlines. They handle large caseloads that require multiple steps, such as preparing pre-sentencing reports, appearing in court and consulting with the offender’s treatment specialists, family members and others.
The BLS reports that in May 2009, probation officers and other correctional treatment specialists earned a median salary of $46,530. Incomes ranged from a low of $30,540 to a high of $78,860, with the middle 50% earning between $36,030 and $62,080. Many jobs in this field require a bachelor’s degree, so associate’s degree holders will generally start with entry-level jobs at the low end of the scale. Higher-paying positions can be achieved through advanced education and experience.
Employment as a probation officer generally requires a college education. It varies by agency, but an associate’s degree is the minimum – most employers prefer a bachelor’s degree, and some mandate master’s-level education. Acceptable majors include criminal justice, social work, psychology or a related field.
The first step for those looking to become a probation officer can be an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Employers know that graduates of a criminal justice education program are able to:
If you have a strong interest in helping others, effective communication skills, a sense of responsibility and the ability to multi-task, then a job as a probation officer may be a good fit for you.