Requirements for Becoming a Probation Officer

Probation officers supervise convicted criminals who serve probation time instead of jail sentences. Job duties include meeting with offenders and documenting their activities to ensure that they obey the court's probation requirements. Probation officers work for state and federal governments, agencies and jurisdictions. Most probation officers hold a bachelor's degree.

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Probation Officer Requirements

Educational Requirements

Various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies may have different job requirements for becoming a probation officer. However, most employers require a bachelor's degree in justice administration, social work, corrections, psychology or criminal justice. Some employers require a master's degree in one of the preceding fields. Individuals who earn an associate's degree may improve their chances of becoming a probation officer by obtaining relevant work experience in the fields of social work, counseling, criminal investigations or corrections. Requirements for becoming a probation officer include good writing and interpersonal skills.

Certification Requirements

Most employers require applicants for probation officer positions to be at least 21 years old. Aspiring probation officers typically must pass a state or federal certification exam, depending on the employer. Requirements to become a probation officer also include passing psychological and physical exams, drug screening and a criminal background check.

Training Requirements

A significant amount of probation officer training takes place on the job. Newly hired probation officers must undergo a supervised training and probationary period for up to a year before they are hired full-time. Federal agencies require probation officers to have at least two years of work experience, which they typically obtain at state and local agencies.

Job Description

Probation officers usually specialize in supervising either adults or juveniles. They closely monitor the activities of probationers by communicating with their neighbors, friends, families and community groups. They meet with offenders regularly at probation offices and at their probationers' homes and job sites. Probation officers may arrange for offenders to obtain employment, housing or alcohol and drug abuse counseling. A key job duty involves writing reports on offenders' progress and submitting the documents to courts. At any given time, probation officers may handle 20-100 cases. Probation officers often spend a disproportionate amount of time handling cases that involve high-risk offenders convicted of violent crimes, robberies and selling drugs.

Employment Outlook

The employment of probation officers is expected to grow along with the prison population. State and federal authorities will continue to ease overcrowding through the use of probation and other alternative punishments. As a result, the number of job openings for probation officers and correctional treatment specialistsis expected to increase 18% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The median annual salary of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $48,190 in 2012.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics