Probation officers work with and monitor offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes.
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Probation officers typically do the following:
Probation officers work with offenders who are given probation instead of jail time, who are still in prison, or who have been released from prison. The following are types of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists:
Probation officers, who are called community supervision officers in some jurisdictions, supervise people who have been placed on probation. They work to ensure that the offender is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation. They write reports that detail each offender’s treatment plans and their progress since they were put on probation. Most probation officers work with either adults or juveniles. Only in small, mostly rural, jurisdictions do probation officers counsel both adults and juveniles.
Pretrial services officers investigate an offender’s background to determine if that offender can be safely allowed back into the community before his or her trial date. They must assess the risk and make a recommendation to a judge who decides on the appropriate sentencing or bond amount. When offenders are allowed back into the community, pretrial officers supervise them to make sure that they stay with the terms of their release and appear at their trials.
Parole officers work with people who have been released from jail and are serving parole to help them re-enter society. They monitor post-release offenders and provide them with various resources, such as substance abuse counseling or job training, to aid in their rehabilitation. By doing so, the officers try to change the offenders’ behavior and thus reduce the risk of that person committing another crime and having to return to jail or prison.
Correctional treatment specialists, who also may be known as case managers or correctional counsellors, counsel offenders and develop rehabilitation plans for them to follow when they are no longer in prison or on parole. They may evaluate inmates using questionnaires and psychological tests. They also work with inmates, probation officers, and staff of other agencies to develop parole and release plans. For example, they may plan education and training programs to improve offenders' job skills.
The number of cases a probation officers handles at one time depends on the needs of offenders and the risks associated with each individual. Higher risk offenders usually command more of the officer's time and resources. Caseload size also varies by agency.
Technological advancements—such as improved tests for screening drug use, electronic devices to monitor clients, and kiosks that allow clients to check in remotely—help probation officers supervise and counsel offenders.
A bachelor's degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology, or a related field is usually required. Some employers require a master's degree in a related field for candidates who do not have previous related work experience. Although job requirements may vary, related work may include work in probation, pretrial services, parole, corrections, criminal investigations, substance abuse treatment, social work, or counseling. Work in any of these fields is typically considered a plus in the hiring process.
Most probation officers must complete a training program sponsored by the local or federal government, after which they may have to pass a certification test. In addition, they may be required to work as trainees or on a probationary period for up to one year before being offered a permanent position.
Some probation officers go on to specialize in a certain type of casework. For example, an officer may work only with domestic violence offenders or deal only with substance-abuse cases. Officers receive training specific to the group that they are working with so that they are better prepared to help that type of offender.
Probation officers work with criminal offenders, some of whom may be dangerous. While supervising offenders, they may interact with others, such as family members and friends of their clients, who may be upset or difficult to work with. Workers may be assigned to fieldwork in high-crime areas or in institutions where there is a risk of violence or communicable disease.
Probation officers must meet many court-imposed deadlines, which contributes to heavy workloads and extensive paperwork. Many officers travel to do home and employment checks and property searches, especially in rural areas. Because of the hostile environments probation officers may encounter, some must carry a firearm or other weapon for protection.
All of these factors, as well as the frustration some officers and specialists feel in dealing with offenders who violate the terms of their release, contribute to a stressful work environment. Although the high stress levels can make the job difficult at times, this work also can be rewarding. Many officers and specialists receive personal satisfaction from counselling members of their community and helping them become productive citizens.
Although many officers work full time, the demands of the job often lead to their working much longer hours. For example, many agencies rotate an on-call officer position. When these workers are on-call, they must respond to any issues with offenders or law enforcement 24 hours a day. Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to their having to work longer hours.
The median annual wage of probation officers was $47,200 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $30,920, and the top 10% earned more than $80,750.