How to Become a Probation Officer

Probation officer shaking hands with convict at desk with paperwork

A probation officer is charged with a dual responsibility: to protect the safety of the community and to support the rehabilitation of convicted offenders and their reintegration into society. This is a meaningful line of work that allows professionals to serve their communities and contribute to the betterment of society. If you would like to become a probation officer, you will first need to earn an appropriate degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies.

What Does a Probation Officer Do?

Probation officers are responsible for enforcing the conditions of probation for the convicted offenders in their caseload. The conditions of probation often include abstaining from alcohol and drugs, acquiring employment, staying within a certain geographical area and avoiding contact with victims. Probation officers must also help offenders navigate reentry into society, which may include finding and maintaining gainful employment or seeking psychological care.

No two days are alike for probation officers. They handle a variety of tasks, which may include the following:

  • Meeting with probationers to discuss their progress
  • Evaluating probationers and identifying their challenges and needs
  • Testing convicted offenders for illicit substances
  • Investigating possible violations of probation and referring those in violation to the court to impose additional legal penalties or to revoke probation
  • Testifying in court hearings
  • Connecting probationers to community resources for education, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, housing or employment

In addition, probation officers spend a substantial amount of time writing reports and maintaining their case files. Their days may also include traveling to offenders’ homes for visits, during which they may interview family members as well as the offenders.

Parole vs. Probation Officer

Probation officers and parole officers perform similar duties. However, the two are not quite the same. The former work with offenders placed on probation, while the latter work with individuals released on parole. Here is a comparison of these two programs:

  • Parole: A convicted offender who has served time in prison may be released early on parole. This is a conditional release. Parolees who violate the conditions of parole are remanded to prison to complete their sentence.
  • Probation: A convicted offender may be sentenced to a period of probation instead of time in jail or prison. This probation period can help offenders get their lives back on track and become productive members of society under the guidance of the probation officer. In some cases, a person may be sentenced to a period of probation following a period of incarceration.

Where Do Probation Officers Work?

Probation officers routinely meet with offenders in their offices. However, they also conduct home visits. They must travel to offenders’ homes periodically to ensure that the individuals are abiding by the terms of their probation.

It is customary for probation officers to work full-time. Beyond that, overtime may sometimes be necessary. At many departments, probation officers take turns being the officer on call. An on-call officer must respond to emergency situations at any time of the day or night.

What Skills and Characteristics Are Essential for a Probation Officer?

An appropriate degree program followed by academy training and/or on-the-job training will teach you everything you need to succeed in this role. However, an aspiring probation officer can also cultivate the skills and characteristics that are most helpful in this line of work. They include the following:

  • Communication: Listening skills are crucial in this profession. It is important to be able to read between the lines and pay attention to nonverbal cues when interacting with a convicted offender.
  • Critical thinking: All individuals who work in the criminal justice field can benefit from critical thinking skills. Probation officers must be able to plan an appropriate rehabilitation program for each offender.
  • Decision-making: Probation officers must often make difficult decisions. They need to be able to set emotions aside and exercise their judgment.

In addition, interpersonal skills are a must-have for a probation officer. These capacities enable officers to establish rapport with offenders. With a good working relationship with their probation officer, probationers are better able to reintegrate into society. They also experience a reduced risk of recidivism (a lapse back into crime).

What Degree Do You Need to Earn?

It is standard for an aspiring officer to have at least an undergraduate degree in a related field. Ideally, that degree will be in justice studies or criminal justice. Some officers may earn a degree in social work. If you are thinking of declaring a minor, two good choices would be psychology and Spanish. Coursework in psychology will help you prepare for interactions with convicted offenders, and coursework in Spanish can help you work with offenders from a wider range of backgrounds.

master’s degree is not mandatory for a probation officer. However, some states may require additional training beyond the undergraduate degree. For example, some officers may need to complete academy training successfully or pass a certification test. Expect to undergo a thorough background check, including medical and psychological screenings. Upon earning the necessary credentials, a rookie officer may be required to complete a period of on-the-job training before stepping into a permanent role in the department.

Grand Canyon University is pleased to educate the next generation of probation officers who will serve communities throughout the country. Apply to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies program online or on campus, and emerge fully equipped to pursue meaningful work in the criminal justice field. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore our best degree program to prepare you to be a probation officer.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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