What is a Probation Officer?

A probation officer is someone who works with and monitors offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes. They carry through with anything the court assigns to them, the most common being to supervise offenders and to investigate the offender's history (personal and criminal) prior to sentencing.

What does a Probation Officer do?

A probation officer is someone who works with and monitors offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes.

Probation officers typically do the following:

  • Evaluate offenders to determine the best course of treatment
  • Provide offenders with resources to aid in rehabilitation
  • Discuss treatment options with offenders
  • Arrange treatment programs
  • Supervise offenders and monitor their progress
  • Conduct meetings with offenders as well as their family and friends
  • Write reports on the progress of offenders
  • Investigate offender's history for the court

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.

  • Pre-trial 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 counselling or job training, to aid in their rehabilitation. By doing so, the officers try to change the offenders’ behaviour 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.

Are you suited to be a probation officer?

Probation officers have distinct personalities. They tend to be social individuals, which means they’re kind, generous, cooperative, patient, caring, helpful, empathetic, tactful, and friendly. They excel at socializing, helping others, and teaching. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

Does this sound like you? Take our free career test to find out if probation officer is one of your top career matches.

Take the free test now Learn more about the career test

What is the workplace of a Probation Officer like?

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to become a Probation Officer?

• The minimum requirement to become a probation officer is a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice, social work, psychology, or a related discipline.

• New-hires also undergo in-service training provided by their employer. These programs vary in length.

• Many probation officers earn a Master’s Degree in criminal justice. This typically adds another two years to their educational track.

Are Probation Officers happy?

Probation officers rank among the least happy careers. Overall they rank in the 35th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.

Their jobs involve long and irregular hours. They work with a range of parolees, some of which may be dangerous. There are times when they must track a parolee who has fled and bring him/her back to the system. The physical, mental, and emotional demands of the work very likely are reflected in the career’s low happiness metric.

Should I become a Probation Officer?

The following traits and skills are essential in this career:

Physical and mental health The role of a probation officer is demanding. It often involves working with people who are physically intimidating, threatening, and/or who test your mental endurance.

Stability and stress management skills The work calls for stability and calmness in the face of stressful and challenging situations, including poverty, abuse, and violence. Many cases involve adolescents and even children.

Communication and interpersonal skills Probation officers are expected to produce reports on a regular basis. It is imperative that the information they communicate is clear and concise. These officers also have to interact with many different personality types and with people who have been previously convicted of crimes. This calls for the capacity to mentor, counsel, and guide people toward a second chance. The role also involves frequent communication with offenders’ friends and family; as well as judges, correctional officers, and treatment specialists.

Time management and organizational skills Caseloads in most jurisdictions are heavy and demand an ability to manage time and remain organized.

Critical thinking, judgement, and decision making skills Identifying and assessing problems and deciding how to handle them are integral parts of the job.

Both a ‘hard-ass’ and a ‘softie’ The quintessential probation officer is rational, logical, and cannot be pushed around; but is also understanding and empathetic. In other words, those who succeed in the field manage to strike a balance between toughness and sensitivity.

What are Probation Officers like?

Based on our pool of users, probation officers tend to be predominately social people. It is also worth noting that their next highest personality archetype is investigative. These two characteristics speak succinctly to the work that these officers do. Their social skills allow them to effectively interact with offenders, judges, treatment practitioners, and others. Their investigative abilities are key to understanding their cases and to ultimately helping their clients.

Steps to becoming a Probation Officer

Aspiring probation officers must earn a Bachelor’s Degree, meet basic national criteria, and fulfill jurisdiction-specific requirements.

Probation Officers are also known as:
Parole Officer Probation and Parole Officer Community Supervision Officer