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Probation Officer Job Description, Career as a Probation Officer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College plus training

Salary Median—$39,600 per year

Employment Outlook Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Probation officers monitor offenders who get sentences of supervision—known as probation—instead of or in addition to jail time. They meet with offenders regularly to check their activities and to evaluate their progress. They make regular reports to the courts about the offenders' behavior. Sometimes they may arrange substance-abuse rehabilitation or job training for their clients. Officers generally work in the adult, juvenile, or family divisions of probation departments. Some officers work for state or county courts; others work in the probation office of the U.S. District Court.

Probation officers handle twenty to one hundred cases at a time, depending on the jurisdiction and the risks that offenders pose to the public. Technology allows efficient supervision: some clients are required to wear electronic devices so their location and movements can be more easily monitored, and computers and cell phones allow officers to handle their caseloads from home or on the road.

Probation officers also conduct pretrial investigations, interviewing those who have been accused of crimes, their families, and their coworkers. If they conclude that the accused are unlikely to commit other crimes, they may recommend to the courts that the offenders be placed under supervision instead of going to trial.

When they conduct presentence investigations, probation officers probe the character, background, and previous criminal records of people who have been tried and convicted. They then recommend punishment to the court: prison sentence, probation, or a combination of the two. In making their recommendations, they must consider the possible harmful effects to society if certain people are not imprisoned.

People who are arrested may be released pending trial if they pay a sum of money to the court. A portion of the money, called bail, is returned if they appear at the trial. Probation officers may make bail recommendations to the

After interviewing each divorcing parent, this probation officer in a family division will make recommendations to the judge for custody, living, and visitation arrangements for the children. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

courts—high, low, or no bail—depending on whether they think the accused are likely to appear at trial.

In large offices probation officers may specialize in one aspect of probation work, such as job placement. In rural districts where there are few clients, they often handle all kinds of probation matters and may work with both adult and juvenile offenders. Those who work in family divisions may make custody investigations and recommendations in divorce proceedings. Others work in halfway houses for offenders. They are often members of teams that include psychiatrists and social workers.

Education and Training Requirements

Bachelor's degrees are required, preferably with majors in sociology, psychology, or criminology. Some employers prefer to hire candidates with master's degrees in one of the behavioral sciences. In addition, candidates should have one or two years of work experience in social welfare agencies or correctional institutions. Probation officers are trained on the job by experienced officers.

Getting the Job

Most jobs in probation are at the county level. Job seekers can contact probation offices directly and take the required civil service examinations. College placement offices usually have job listings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Probation officers receive promotions and salary increases by passing additional civil service tests. They may become supervisors of other probation officers, chief probation officers, or directors of probation departments.

The employment of probation officers is expected to grow as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. The increasing number of cases before the courts should spur demand. However, increased job opportunities for probation officers may be affected by public funding.

Working Conditions

Probation officers generally work forty hours per week, including some weekend and evening appointments. They often drive considerable distances to meet with offenders in their homes and at their jobs. The work can be physically and emotionally demanding.

Where to Go for More Information

American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
1625 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 429-1000

American Probation and Parole Association
2760 Research Park Dr.
Lexington, KY 40511-8410
(859) 244-8203

National Council on Crime and Delinquency
1970 Broadway, Ste. 500
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 208-0500

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary widely, because county, state, and federal governments have different pay scales. In 2004 the median salary for all probation officers was $39,600 per year. The most experienced officers earned more than $66,660 per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health and life insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service