How to Become a Probation Officer

Job Description

Probation officers are officers of the court. Their job is to supervise and enforce court ordered probation for convicted criminals both adult and juvenile. They help implement programs designed to aid in the   rehabilitation of adult offenders over 18 years of age and youth offenders under 18. Preparation programs for these two broad groups will vary somewhat.

This can be a rewarding career when a probabtion officers sees milestones in an offender’s rehabilitation process. Anger management, drug and alcohol treatment, counseling and community service are some of the programs the probation officer will help their assigned client to complete, hopefully successfully.

On the opposite end, the probabtion officer can take satisfaction in removing a dangerous criminal from the streets when necessary to prevent harm to other citizens.

Educational Requirements
Bachelor's Degree
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational requirements for probation officers vary from state to state. Most states do require the minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. Even so, it goes without saying that you will want to meet the educational requirements to be more competitive in the work force.

It is always possible to get a higher degree while working in the field. A combination of online classes and field experience works well for earning degrees.

Criminal justice degree programs help prepare new graduates to pass the certification test to become a probation officer.

If you are in the midst of a professional career in psychology, sociology, social work or family and children’s services, a degree in criminal justice will be easier to complete. You will already have some knowledge and background in the criminal justice system.

Job candidates who have completed course work such as substance abuse, counseling, social work, gang affiliations, court reports and presentations may have an edge over other job candidates.

In addition to needing the minimum Bachelor’s degree, some prospective employers may require a Master’s degree for job candidates that have no job related experience. J

ob related experience that probation agencies look for include criminal investigation, pretrial services, parole, corrections and any type of counseling or social work. A Master’s in social work or psychology will help to advance in this career.

In most states, probation and correctional officers must finish their degree from a state or federally approved program. Therefore, the first step you should take to become a probation officer is to find out your particular state’s requirements. You will want to make sure that whatever program you enroll in, be it online, community college or university meets your state’s requirements.

Other Job Requirements

After completing your degree, the next step in most states is to pass a certification test. Some agencies may then require you to work for a probationary period before being permanently hired.

Correction agencies also require certain skills including:

  • Good communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Organization and writing skills

Probation officers must also be emotionally stabile. They will often encounter hostile situations that they will need to deescalate. Some employers may therefore require a psychological profile exam.

Of course you will need a good, clean background check to work as a representative of the law.

Some probation officers may choose to go into specialized fields that they have an interest in. Some of these fields include working with offenders of domestic violence and substance abuse. The officers then receive training in that specialization so that they can be more effective.

Most states also require probation officers to be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license, pass a drug screening and have a background free of felonies.

Job outlook

As of 2010, the average annual salary for a probation officer was $47,200 annually. The top 10 percent of probation officers earn as much as $80,750. Job growth for this career is expected to grow by at least 18 percent over the next few years.

Contributing factors for job growth include the need for supervised probabtion and parole for current prisoners expected to be released. Budget concerns are giving judges flexibility in sentencing. Less violent criminals may be given probabtion rather than prison time, Additionally, those who retire from the field will need replacing.

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