Probation Officer Career, Job, Degrees and Training Information

Individuals convicted of certain crimes are frequently placed on probation instead of being encarcerated. Former prisoners who have served jail time are often released on parole following the completion of their prison sentence. During parole and probation, current offenders and prior criminal offenders must not commit any additional crimes and comply with various requirements. Parole officers, probation officers, and correctional treatment specialists monitor and work with individual on probation or parole to prevent them from committing new crimes and to be a productive part of society.

Probation officers, referred to as community supervision officers in some regions in the United States, are responsible for supervising individuals who are on probation. Correctional treatment specialists, commonly know as case managers or correctional counselors in some states, provide counseling to offenders and develop and implement rehabilitation plans for offenders to follow once they are no longer in prison or on parole. Parole officers have many of the same responsibilities and perform many of the same duties as probation officers. However, there is a big difference between parole offers and probation officers. Parole officers supervise offenders that have recently been released from prison, whereas probation officers only work with offenders who have been sentenced to probation (not prison.) Pretrial services officers, unlike probation and parole officers, conduct pretrial investigations, in order to determine whether or not suspected criminal should be released before they they are tried. In most areas throughout the United States, parole is a function of the State and probation is a function of the county.

Both parole and probation officers alike supervise offenders on parole or probation via personal contact with the offenders as well as the offenders families. Offenders are not required to go to a designated location to report to their parole or probation officer. In fact, the majority of officers meet with offenders in their homes, at their places of employment or during therapy sessions. Parole and probation agencies also look to community organizations, such as neighborhood groups, religious institutions, and local residents, to help monitor the behavior individual on parole or probation. As a term of their parole or probation, a few offenders must wear an electronic tracking device so officers can monitor their location at all times. Probation and parole officers often help offenders to find job training and get needed substance abuse rehabilitation.

In additional to more traditional duties such as meeting with offenders, probation officers also allocate quite a bit of time working with the courts. Went on duty with they courts, probation officers write presentence reports, investigate the backgrounds of the accused, and recommend sentences. Frequently, probation officers will also review sentencing recommendations with both offenders and the offender's family before submitting their recommendations to the court. On occassion probation officers are required to testify in court with regard to their findings and recommendations. They are also required to attend hearings to update the court on offenders' efforts, successes, and failures at rehabilitation and compliance with the terms of their probation.

Correctional treatment specialists function in a similar, yet slightly different, capacity as probation officers. They work in prisons, jails, or probation or parole agencies. In prisons and jails, they monitor the progress of inmates toward rehabilitation. They may evaluate inmates using psychological test and questionnaires. Correctional treatment specialists also work with prison inmates, probation officers, and other related law enforcement agencies to create parole and release plans. They develop detailed case reports, which show an inmate's history as well as the likelihood of them committing another crime. These case reports are provided to the corresponding parole board or hearing committee when inmates are eligible for release. Correctional treatment specialists develop, plan, and implement specialized education and training programs designed to improve offenders' job and life skills and provide them with anger management, coping, and drug and sexual abuse counseling either individually or in group settings. Correctional treatment specialists usually develop written treatment plans for each of their clients. Correctional treatment specialists that work in probation or parole agencies are responsible for performing many of same duties as their counterparts working in correctional institutions.

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists may manage from 20 to more than 100 active offender cases at any given time. The number of cases an officer handles is determined by the needs of the agencies where they work as well as the risk each offender possesses. High risk offenders usually require more of an officer's time and resources than a low risk offender.

Pretrial services officers are primarily responsible for conducting pretrial investigations. These investigations are design to help determine whether suspected criminal should be released before their trial. When suspected criminalas are released before their trial, pretrial services officers must supervise them to ensure they adhere to the terms of their release and that don't skip town. In most jurisdications, probation officers perform all the essential duties of pretrial services officers.

Education and Training

Probation and parole officers are usually required to have a bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology, social work, criminal justice, or correctional counseling. Officers working for the federal government must complete at least 2 years of field work.

A majority of probation officers and a few correctional treatment specialists are required by the jurisdications where they'll work to complete a training program sponsored by their State or Federal Government, after which a certification test is often required. Most correctional treatment specialists and probation officers work on a probationary period as trainees. This probationary period may last for up to a year before a permanent position is offered.

Career advancement opportunities for probation and parole officers as well as correctional treatment specialists is primarily determined by job performance and experience. However, a graduate degree, such as a master's degree in criminal justice, psychology or social work is often very helpful if not required for advancement.

Special Skills and Qualifications

Applicants are usually required to take oral, written, physical, and psychological examinations. Those aspiring to be a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist need to be in good emotional and physical condition. Most prison systems, parole agencies, courts, and probation agencies require candidates to be at least 21 years of age and, for Federal employment, no older than 37. Individuals who have previously been convicted of a felony will likely not be eligible for employment as a probation officer, parole officer or correctional treatment specialist. A valid driver's license is often a precondition to employment as well.

Proficiency with computers is often a prerequisite, due to the regular use of computer technology in parole and probation work. Applicants also should be very familiar with regulations and laws relating to corrections. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists really need to have strong writing skills to be successful since they are constantly required to prepare reports. Officers need to have effective oral and written communication skills in order to effectively prepare reports, defend their reports in the courtroom, and work effectively with offenders. Officers must be understanding and empathetic since they work with people from all backgrounds, many from dysfunctional ones. They must handle stress effectively.

Salary and Benefits

The median yearly wage for correctional treatment specialists and probation officers in 2008 was $45,910. The middle 50 percent of these professional earned between $35,990 and $60,430 and year. The lowest 10 percent of officers and specialist earned less than $29,490, while the highest 10 percent earned over $78,210 a year. During 2008, median yearly wages for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists employed by State government were $46,580; while those employed by local government earned $46,420. As would be expected, higher annual wages tend to be offered in urban areas.

Working Conditions

Probation and parole officers perform their duties in courts, jails, prisons, and offices. They often visit their clients' homes and businesses. They usually work 40 hours a week but often have to work extra to perform investigations and meet deadlines.

Job Outlook

Job opportunities for parole and probation officers are average. More people are working with officers, but the federal correction system has eliminated parole. With budget cuts, since new parole officers cannot be hired, officers have larger case loads.

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