Becoming a Probation Officer: Job Description and Skills Needed

Probation officers work with people who were convicted of crimes and sentenced to probation instead of incarceration. The work of a probation officer often involves monitoring offenders, coordinating rehabilitation services and arranging job training. Read on to learn about the tasks and skills needed to perform this job, as well as information on becoming a probation officer.

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Probation Officer Job Description

A probation officer is a law enforcement professional who works with individuals who are serving probation instead of jail time. They must keep in contact with offenders and their family members, juggle deadlines enforced by the courts and ensure that those under their supervision meet all the terms of their probation, including drug testing, if necessary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), probation officers must work with the courts as well, analyzing a probationer's file and making recommendations regarding sentencing (www.bls.gov).

Skills Needed As a Probation Officer

Probation officers must be able to listen to and communicate with others, interpreting their moods and reactions. They must also successfully manage their own time and teach others about the importance of time management. It's important that probation officers build relationships with community groups and businesses that might provide support for their probationers. They must often motivate and assist their clients in achieving their goals and staying on track with their probation.

Probation Officer Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS groups probation officers together with correctional treatment specialists and estimates a 1% decline in jobs for those workers in the decade 2012-2022. Employment in this field is greatly dependent on government budgets. In May 2012, the BLS stated that probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned median wages of $48,190 annually.

Education Requirements for Probation Officers

The BLS noted that most probation officers must have a bachelor's degree. Two common degree majors that provide relevant knowledge needed for the job include sociology and criminal justice. After completing the requisite education, prospective probation officers usually need to complete psychological and endurance tests and may need to participate in drug testing. State regulations might also include a mandated training program. Federal probation officer jobs might require some graduate-level education.

Bachelor of Science in Sociology

During a sociology program, students explore how individuals' behaviors and choices shape society. Some sociology majors offer specialization classes in criminal justice. Students can also choose from courses in classical sociological theory, anthropology, political science and psychology. Students must typically study sociological methods and statistical analysis.

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice bachelor's degree programs can be offered online or through traditional classroom learning. During their classes, students can explore the legal foundation of the criminal justice system, procedures in criminal investigations and ethical aspects of criminology. Students can learn about the current state of the corrections system in the U.S. and how the law enforcement system works. While many students must complete a senior thesis, some may also choose to complete an internship in an approved law enforcement setting.

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