What is a Probation Officer?

If you’re thinking of becoming a probation officer, you’re probably aware that it is a challenging and rewarding career. What you may not know is what exactly a probation officer is, what they do, and what education is required to get there. You’re in luck because we’ve done our research and put together some need-to-know information about this in-demand career.

What are the Duties of a Probation Officer?

Probation officers are a part of the criminal justice system and are responsible for supervising criminal offenders. The offenders they supervise are placed to them by the court system after they have been sentenced to probation, whether they have served jail time or not. They work closely with the entire criminal justice system, from the courts to law enforcement, and lawyers.

This type of officer ensures that the offender in their care not only has access to the resources they need, but also ensure that the offender is doing what they are supposed to (per the court’s orders). Whether its education and training, housing, job placement, or drug testing, the probation officer is responsible for being an offender’s caretaker.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, probation officers work to ensure that the probationer is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation through frequent visits with the probationer. The frequency of visits is dictated by the courts, as is their course of treatment. Some offenders may be required to hold a job, pass drug tests, and live in adequate housing, for example. The probation officer must ensure that the offender is doing everything they are supposed to and must report to the court if they are not.

How Do You Become a Probation Officer?

Typically, probation officers work in law enforcement agencies on local, state, or federal levels. Most employers expect their new hires to have at least earned their undergraduate degree in a major like criminal justice, behavioral sciences, social work, or other related fields. Some employers may even require a graduate degree, especially if you’re working for a federal agency.

Most probation officers are also required to complete a training program that is provided to them either by their state or federal government. After the training, each hire is expected to pass a certification exam. After passing their training, probation officers typically work as trainees (for usually one year) before becoming a permanent probation officer.

In addition to education and training, it is helpful if the new hire has additional experience in corrections, social work, pretrial services, or probation. Probation officers can specialize or work in certain types of casework. Depending on your experience and the need of the agency, you could work only with domestic violence probationers, substance abuse cases, or juvenile offenders.

In order to be successful, probation offices must have great decision-making, organizational, communication, and critical-thinking skills. They must also be emotionally stable, as the casework you are responsible for may be very emotionally trying.

Related Resource: What is ICE?

There are many roles in the criminal justice system that helps keep the system in balance. Probation officers are a very important role in that system, ensuring the rehabilitation of offenders while also helping to put away the ones who need to be put away.