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Probation Officer Career Guide

Over the coming years, a career as a probation officer is one that is set to offer many employment and development opportunities. Of course, it is a career that is challenging and frustrating at times. However, it is incredibly rewarding, satisfying and fulfilling. Probation officers need to achieve a bachelor’s degree in a related field. They must then complete a training program, which is state or federal government funded. At the end of this training, probation officers will also be expected to pass a certification test.

 

[The best thing is] seeing people making positive changes in their lives, and getting the sense that you are helping to minimise the number of other victims of really horrific offences.

Kelly Grice

Probation Officer Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Probation Officer Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Probation Officer field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33229 Community Supervision Officer / Probation Officer Female 49 $31,500 Santa Fe, NY 01/01/2010

Overview

What a probation officer actually does

A probation officer monitors individuals who have been convicted of committing crimes and are now released on parole or probation. They work with these offenders to make sure they stay out of trouble and help keep them on the right track by helping them find employment opportunities, providing them with treatment options, and maintaining their progress along the way. Probation officers are both disciplinarians and mentors for these men and women. Their typical duties and responsibilities include:

  • Providing advice and information to offenders
  • Running programmes to help offenders become rehabilitated
  • Managing and enforcing community orders made by the courts
  • Motivating offenders to change their attitude and behaviour
  • Supervising junior staff
  • Writing reports and keeping documents
  • Assessing prisoners, whilst they are still in prison, to prepare them for release into the community
  • Supporting victims of crime

Why they are needed

Probation officers play a unique role in the legal system. They are vital for rehabilitating criminals and ensuring that they can play a functional role in society. In doing this, they are protecting society and ensuring that citizens remain safe from criminal acts. They also play a role in protecting criminals, and making sure they are treated fairly and receive the correct support.

Pros and cons of a career as a probation officer

Pros:

  • A career as a probation officer offers lots of different diverse and exciting career opportunities
  • In some way, the work of a probation officer will always involve helping and protecting someone and improving their life. This makes it an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career
  • As well as being rewarding and fulfilling, a career as a probation officer is challenging, stimulating and thrill-seeking
  • Probation officers tend to work in a supportive and cohesive team, which creates a nice work environment

Cons:

  • As probation officers work with criminals every single day, and some of these individuals may be dangerous, the job has the potential for both dangerous and stressful situations
  • You will work with some difficult people and witness some not very pleasant things, which can make it a very emotionally draining and taxing career
  • Probation officers may have to work long hours. These hours involve a lot of problem solving, which can be exhausting and draining
  • There can be a high caseload as it is not uncommon for probation offices to be understaffed. This means you will potentially be overworked and under rewarded

Employability

Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of probation officers is expected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

This employment growth depends primarily on the amount of state and local government funding for corrections, especially the amount allocated to probation and parole systems. However, the employment growth is expected because community corrections is an economically viable alternative to incarceration.

Job openings are expected to result from the need to replace those who leave the occupation each year. Those who are correctly qualified can expect to have good job opportunities.

Career paths

To become a probation officer, you will usually need a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, behavioural science or a related field. After this, you will need to complete a training program sponsored by the state or federal government. At the end of this training, you will be expected to pass a certification test.

If you want to specialize (e.g., in domestic abuse, working with juvenile offenders or substance abuse), you will need additional specific training in that area.

Example Job Titles for Probation Officer

Below is a list of common job titles in the Probation Officer field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a probation officer was $54,290 in 2019. The lowest 10% earned less than $36,370 and the highest 10% earned more than $94,860. The top paying industry was local government (excluding education and hospitals), which had an average annual salary for $57,920.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Probation officers have a lot of responsibility when it comes to making decisions regarding the prisoners they are working with. As probation services are often understaffed, as long as probation officers always work with the best interests of the criminal in mind and follow the correct policies and legal guidelines, they are encouraged to make their own decisions. This gives them a high level of autonomy. Flexibility is perhaps not as high because, as mentioned previously, probation officers may have to work long hours due to strict deadlines and understaffed departments.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states in the United States to be a probation officer, based on average annual income and number of job opportunities available, are:

  1. Louisiana, where the annual salary is $45,361
  2. Mississippi where the annual salary is $43,224
  3. Rhode Island, where the annual salary is $43,325
  4. Texas, where the annual salary is $45,089
  5. Delaware, where the annual salary is $43,617

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Missouri, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Work environment

Probation officers tend to work full time. The demands of the job often call for working overtime and variable hours. Some probation officers may be on-call, which means they must respond to any issues with probationers at any time of day.

The largest employer of probation officers in the United States in 2018 was the state government (52%), followed by local government (45%) and then social assistance (1%). Probation officers may spend some of their time in offices. At other times, probation officers will be visiting probationers and their family members at their home.

Probation officers may work in high-crime areas, where there is a risk of violence. They may also perform home and employment checks and property searches. Because of the hostile environments they may encounter, some may carry a firearm or pepper spray for protection. On top of this, probation officers will have to deal with the challenge of probationers who violate the terms of their release. All of these factors can contribute to a stressful work environment. But, it must not be forgotten that the work can also be highly rewarding and many probation officers receive high personal satisfaction.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Probation Officer careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Probation Officer career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Probation Officer.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DISC

  • None

Enneagram

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

There is little to no exploration on the specific personality types that make a successful probation officer. However it can expected that a successful probation officer will most likely be the INFJ personality type. INFJ types, or otherwise known as ‘the counselor’, are compassionate, dedicated to helping others and have the ability to understand other’s emotions. Typically, INFJ types are highly interested in psychology and social sciences, which fits with the work of a probation officer.

Accomplishment and mastery

As being a probation officer requires a lot of skills to be learnt on the job, there is a high sense of mastery. There is also a sense of accomplishment in probation work, as there will be many positive outcomes as a direct result from the work of probation officers (e.g., reduced reoffending rate, improved family relations, safer communities and rehabilitated criminals).

Meaning and contribution

As probation officers help protect society and prevent reoffending, there is a high sense of meaning and contribution. Without probation officers, many criminals would not get the help and support they need to rehabilitate and improve their lives.

Life fit

Most probation officers will work full time hours, meaning it can be an easy career to fit around a busy life. However, as many probation and correctional departments are understaffed and overworked, probation officers may have to work overtime, which can mean it might not always provide a great life fit.

Who will thrive in this career?

Firstly, to thrive as a probation officer, you will need a genuine interest and passion to help others and relate to how they feel. You will need to be confident and enjoy interacting with other people, especially criminals. Those who can solve problems will thrive, as many of the daily challenges of a probation officer will involve finding solutions to help probationers progress. You will also need to have the highest level of patience, as probation officers will have to work with difficult clients and help them work through their probation. Finally, those who understand cultural differences and can be respectful and aware of all backgrounds are likely to thrive. This is because they will work with different religions, cultures and backgrounds and must be able to be respectful.

Who will struggle in this career?

Those who prefer to work with numbers or data opposed to working in teams or meeting with people one-to-one will struggle as a probation officer. Similarly, those who are not self-aware and have no interest in learning about other cultures, religions, life experiences or backgrounds might struggle with the variation of probationaries they will have to work with. Finally, those who are motivated by earning lots of money as, although probation work is not poorly paid, it is not a career to enter if you are looking to earn a six figure salary.

Requirements

Skills and talents

Probation officers will need the following skills and talents:

  • Active listening skills, as probation officers will need to be engaged in all conversations with their probationers to understand their struggles. Good listening skills establish respect
  • Organization skills are essential as probation officers will need to manage their caseloads efficiently and work to meet deadlines
  • Written and verbal communication skills are also essential as probation officers will need to effectively communicate their ideas verbally and will need to keep documents for others to interpret and understand
  • Emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy and sensitivity, is essential for working with dangerous or unstable people
  • Critical thinking skills are key as probation officers will work with individuals with all kinds of complex problems and will therefore need to find innovative and creative ways to solve these

Education

To become a probation officer, you will usually need a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, behavioural science or a related field.

After this, probation officers will need to complete a training program sponsored by the state or federal government. At the end of this training, all aspiring probation officers will be expected to pass a certification test.

If you want to specialize (e.g., in domestic abuse, working with juvenile offenders or substance abuse), you will need additional specific training in that area.

 

How to Become

Summary

Over the coming years, a career as a probation officer is one that is set to offer many employment, and development, opportunities. Of course, it is a career that is challenging. But, incredibly rewarding, satisfying and fulfilling.

Immediate action

Although not an essential requirement to get a job as a probation officer, it would be advantageous to get some relevant work experience opportunities. Relevant work experience includes things such as working with those who have a mental illness or volunteering to help rehabilitate criminals and/or substances abusers.

Education and learning

Probation officers need to achieve either a bachelor’s degree in a related field. They must then complete all relevant training, that is state or federal government funded. At the end of this training, you will be expected to pass a certification test.

Skill development

Probation officers will continue to develop their skills on the job, as they will have to go through further training in order to specialize in a particular area.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Probation Officer careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33229 Community Supervision Officer / Probation Officer Female 49 $31,500 Santa Fe, NY 01/01/2010

Resources