What Does a Probation Officer Do?

By Eric Hammer

A probation officer (also known as a parole officer - in most cases, the two jobs are done by the same person) works with people who have recently been paroled from jail or who have been given probation (i.e. they were convicted of a crime, but not sent to jail. In this case, they must report to you periodically for help and training to make sure they don't get into trouble). In both cases, this means that your job is in essence to make sure that the people you work with are not reoffending and are going to try to lead productive lives going forward rather than ending up back in jail or in jail to begin with.

The job is very much like being a parent to these people since a probation officer must be both encouraging and strict. On the one hand, you need to be encouraging to help your charges to reintegrate into society after they have served their time in jail or to prevent them from going to jail in the first place. On the other hand, as a probation officer, your duty is to report violations by your charges of the terms of their parole and to help arrange to send them to prison if they do violate their parole or probation.

Probation officers sometimes do have some leeway, to allow minor infractions to slide, depending on who you are working with and how serious the offense is. For example, if you are a probation officer for someone who had gone to jail for a serious crime and the person is then picked up for shop lifting a $5 item, you may be able to intercede on behalf of the person you are working with if you feel, in your professional judgment that it was a one-time event and not a pattern beginning to develop (assuming of course the store owner doesn't choose to press charges).

How Much Can You Make?

According to salary.com, the average salary for a probation officer is approximately $50,144 per year as of 2011. This can of course go up or down depending on experience and location.

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Remember that a probation officer acts mostly like a parent to the parolee or the person on probation. You are responsible for helping them to smooth over the rough spots in their lives. This includes helping them get settled into a halfway house and finding their first job after prison or helping them to find productive work so that they don't end up in prison to begin with. Once the person has gotten himself or herself settled in, you are going to have ongoing meetings with the person to ensure that they are functioning well in society.

At the same time however, you are also responsible, just like a parent, for punishing the charges under your care. This means that you occasionally do surprise inspections of the people who you are responsible for and report parole or probation violations to your supervisor as needed.

The job is a very tough one since you in essence must be willing to deal with people who are not necessarily interested in being rehabilitated. You also must deal with people who may have emotional problems which landed them in prison or in the court system to begin with. That said, some probation officers report that they find the job very rewarding since they can often see progress in the lives of the people they are charged with supervising.

Qualifications / Requirements

Generally, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree in order to work as a probation officer. You'll often require some experience in criminal justice as well and may work as an assistant probation officer before you land a job on your own.

First Steps

Start by going to college and earning a degree in criminal justice, psychology or a related field. Then, contact city agencies and find out about openings for probation officer jobs in your area. Be sure to ask about requirements in advance and make sure that you qualify before you apply for the job.


All Criminal Justice Schools: Parole and Probation Officer - A guide to becoming a parole or probation officer (as noted above, these are generally the same, the difference being that someone on probation didn't go to prison but must report to a probation officer whereas someone on parole has served some time in prison but must still report to you for a few years).

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