Probation Officer Requirements and Training Information

Probation officers monitor and advise criminal offenders who have been placed on probation to ensure that the conditions of their sentence are being followed. To become a probation officer, an individual must meet a range of academic, professional and physical requirements.

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Requirements and Training Information for Probation Officers

Probation officers, sometimes referred to as community supervision officers, are criminal justice professionals who oversee individuals sentenced to probation. They keep tabs on an individual's behavior in the community, sometimes by visiting the offender in his or her home or workplace. Besides relying on their own observations, probation officers may consult family members, employers and various community members to gather information. They write reports and keep records on each assigned case.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most probation officers work exclusively with either adults or juveniles (www.bls.gov). They also work closely with the courts, making recommendations and testifying about their findings. Probation officers need good communication and decision-making skills. Along with understanding the legal system, they should be knowledgeable about concepts in psychology and sociology.

Education Requirements

While a master's degree may be needed in some cases, most jobs for probation officers require candidates to hold bachelor's degrees, according to the BLS. Individuals may major in criminal justice, justice administration or a related field. These programs include coursework in social behavior, criminal justice processes, criminology and ethics. Some programs encourage students to perform an internship in a criminal justice specialty, such as substance abuse or corrections, before they graduate.

Training Requirements

Many states require prospective probation officers to complete training programs, certification tests or both before they may begin work. Training programs may include coursework or hands-on demonstrations and cover topics such as state regulations and self-defense techniques. After completing state-sponsored training, potential probation officers generally work as trainees under experienced officers for a period of time, usually a year. Probation officers may be required to complete continuing education to remain certified.

Additional Requirements

The BLS indicated that most agencies required applicants to be at least 21 years old; potential candidates seeking federal employment must also be younger than 37 years old. Applicants may have to submit to background checks and random drug tests, and they can be eliminated from consideration if they have been convicted of a felony. They may also have to take additional tests, including those that measure their psychological or physical fitness.

Career Outlook

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists were expected to see an 18% growth from 2010-2020, according to the BLS. This was about average growth, but the BLS stated there should be many positions available to qualified candidates due to retirements and turnover. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists made an average salary of $52,380 per year in May 2012.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics