Job Description of a Probationary Officer

Probation officers supervise convicted offenders who have been granted probation instead of a jail sentence. Read on to learn more about their job duties and working conditions, and check the required education and training for becoming a probation officer. Get outlook and salary info for this position.

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Job Description

Probation officers are responsible for supervising the activities of offenders, who in lieu of serving time in jail, have been granted community supervised probation. In many jurisdictions, probation officers are called community supervision officers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they write pre-sentencing reports, recommend probation conditions to the court, arrange mandated services, monitor the offender's progress and investigate any alleged violations of probation (www.bls.gov).

Job Responsibilities

Probation officers conduct pre-sentencing investigations to assess an offender's potential for rehabilitation and to determine the level of probation. Officers evaluate the offender based upon: interviews with the offender's family, employers and counselors; reports received from electronic tracking devices; and the results of drug testing. In probation hearings, officers report the evaluation's findings which are used to establish conditions of probation.

Job Categories and Workload

Probation officers can work exclusively with either adult or juvenile offenders. However, in smaller jurisdictions, officers can be assigned to supervise both. In some locales, probation officers must also perform the duties of parole officers.

The BLS reports that the caseloads of probation officers often vary by agency and/or offenders' needs. However, according to the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), most agencies have implemented a case management system known as the 'workload model' to balance caseloads (www.appa-net.org).

Nature of the Job and Working Conditions

The work of a probation office is potentially hazardous and stressful. Working with offenders who may be violent poses safety risks to officers. Since probation officers carry firearms and are perceived as law enforcement officials, they may be met with hostility in certain communities, which can further heighten stress and increase safety concerns.

Officers are required to collect and transport urine samples for drug testing. Exposure to biohazards places them at risk of contracting communicable diseases, further increasing the dangerous nature of the job. Officers may encounter hazards and can experience episodes of stress while performing their routine job duties.

Educational Requirements and Training

Prospective probation officers typically earn either a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, psychology, social work, or a related social science field. However, the APPA reports that some states will consider candidates with at least a high school diploma and experience.

According to the BLS, most probation officers must finish a state or federal government training program, pass a certification exam and may be required to work as trainees for up to a year before being offered a permanent position. Many employers provide supplemental training, especially in areas involving safety.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS anticipated jobs for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists to decline by 1% between 2012 and 2022. As sentencing guidelines change and jail overcrowding remains an issue, the demand for probation officers will increase; however, positions in this field are limited by government funding, accounting for the decline in openings. The BLS noted in 2013 that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists brought home, on average, $52,910 annually.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics