Career as a Probation Officer Right for You?
One of the most challenging and potentially rewarding careers in criminal justice is that of a probation officer. Probation officers are on the front line in working with and monitoring released offenders in an effort to prevent them from committing new crimes and being reincarcerated. By helping to keep offenders out of prison, probation officers can improve the quality of the lives of their probationers while saving the government significant amounts of money in the process. Although significant growth is projected in the field for the future and the pay is generally good, working as a probation officer is not for everyone. This paper provides a review of the relevant literature to determine the responsibilities and typical job tasks of probation officers, the types of work environments they encounter, national salary levels and the outlook for this position in the future. A summary of the research and important findings concerning probation officers and their work are provided in the conclusion.
Review and Analysis
Background and Overview
Most people have likely either seen a probation officer on television or in the movies, but these brief glimpses into the busy lives of probation officers do not reflect what is actually involved. According to Black’s Law Dictionary (1991), a probation officer is “one who supervises a person (commonly juveniles) placed on probation by a court in a criminal proceeding. They are required to report to the court the progress of the probationer and to surrender them if they violate the terms and condition of their probation” (p. 1202). Likewise, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that probation officers “work with and monitor offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes” (Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, 2012). The general responsibilities described in the foregoing definitions are congruent with the specific responsibilities that probation officers are expected to perform, which include the following:
1. Interview probationers and parolees regularly to evaluate their progress in accomplishing goals and maintaining the terms specified in their probation contracts and rehabilitation plans.
2. Recommend remedial action or initiate court action in response to noncompliance with terms of probation or parole.
3. Administer drug and alcohol tests, including random drug screens of offenders, to verify compliance with substance abuse treatment programs.
4. Prepare and maintain case folder for each assigned inmate or offender.
5. Discuss with offenders how such issues as drug and alcohol abuse and anger management problems might have played roles in their criminal behavior.
6. Conduct prehearing and presentencing investigations and testify in court regarding offenders’ backgrounds and recommended sentences and sentencing conditions.
7. Inform offenders or inmates of requirements of conditional release, such as office visits, restitution payments, or educational and employment stipulations.
8. Write reports describing offenders’ progress.
9. Arrange for medical, mental health, or substance abuse treatment services according to individual needs or court orders.
10. Supervise people on community-based sentences, such as electronically monitored home detention, and provide field supervision of probationers by conducting curfew checks or visits to home, work, or school (Probation officer tasks, 2012, para. 2).
Although the responsibilities assigned to probation officers will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the above-listed tasks are consistent with those responsibilities that are described in the relevant literature (Weisburd, Waring and Chayet, 2001). The demand for probation officers is projected to continue to increase through 2020. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “Continued growth in the demand for probation and parole services will lead to new openings for officers” (Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, 2012, para. 2). About 37,300 new probation officers jobs are expected to be available by 2020 (Probation officer tasks, 2012).
Educational and Aptitude Requirements
At present, the educational requirements for probation officers usually include a bachelor’s degree at a minimum and these requirements are generally higher than those required for police officers; however, this requirement also varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, 2012). In addition, a majority of employers also require probation officer applicants to pass oral, written, and psychological examinations prior to being accepted for the position (Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, 2012). In the United States, the median annual income for probation officers was $47,200 in mid-2010 (Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, 2012), or about $23.00 per hour (Probation officer tasks, 2012). There are currently about 93,000 probation officers working in the United States (Probation officer tasks, 2012).
The credentials required to become a probation officer have not always mirrored those required to become a police officer; however, in recent years, the probation officer profession has become more professionalized, and the difference between the requirements for police officers and probation officers are becoming less distinct. In this regard, Dominey (2010) reports that, “In the past, there were significant differences in the arrangements for and expectations of the training and education of those intending to become probation officers and police officers” (p. 6). More recently, though, the probation officer profession has become closely aligned with that of law enforcement authorities, but with a stronger emphasis on higher education as part of the process. As Dominey points out, “Over the past decade, the training for both occupations has moved closer together, with the use of national vocational qualifications and the creation of a range of awards based in higher education. Probation officer training has been located in higher education for much of its history” (2010, p. 7).
Besides educational credentials, prospective probation officers need to be aware of some of the other requirements that go hand-in-hand with the job, including the following attributes set forth in Table 1 below.
Desirable Attributes for Probation Officers
The probation officer job requires being honest and ethical.
The job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.
The job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high stress situations.
The job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Attention to Detail
The job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.
The job requires developing one’s own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
Concern for Others
The job requires being sensitive to others’ needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
The job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
Finally, the job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
Source: Adapted from Police Officer Tasks, 2012 at http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary / 21-1092.00
Types of Probation Officers
Despite the commonalities in their job descriptions, there are actually a number of different positions available for probation officers, including those set forth in Table 2 below.
Types of Probation Officers
Also called community supervision officers in some states, these professionals supervise people who have been placed on probation. They work to ensure that the offender is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation. Probation officers write reports that detail each offender’s treatment plans and their progress since they were put on probation. Most probation officers work with either adults or juveniles. Only in small, mostly rural, jurisdictions do probation officers counsel both adults and juveniles.
Pretrial services officers
These professionals investigate an offender’s background to determine if that offender can be safely allowed back into the community before his or her trial date. They must assess the risk and make a recommendation to a judge who decides on the appropriate sentencing or bond amount. When offenders are allowed back into the community, pretrial officers supervise them to make sure that they stay with the terms of their release and appear at their trials.
These officers work with people who have been released from jail and are serving parole to help them re-enter society. Parole officers monitor post-release offenders and provide them with various resources, such as substance abuse counseling or job training, to aid in their rehabilitation. By doing so, the officers try to change the offenders’ behavior and thus reduce the risk of that person committing another crime and having to return to jail or prison.
Correctional treatment specialists
Also known as case managers or correctional counselors, these officers counsel offenders and develop rehabilitation plans for them to follow when they are no longer in prison or on parole. They may evaluate inmates using questionnaires and psychological tests. They also work with inmates, probation officers, and staff of other agencies to develop parole and release plans. For example, they may plan education and training programs to improve offenders’ job skills. Correctional treatment specialists write case reports that cover the inmate’s history and the likelihood that he or she…