Roughly five million people are on probation or parole in the United States each year, averaging nearly one in every 100 people. Each probationer and parolee requires the direct supervision of a probation officer or parole agent for a specified length of time, which varies, depending on the terms of their sentencing. With such high demand, career prospects for probation officers are projected to grow at a healthy rate for the foreseeable future. This field is well-suited to candidates with strong interpersonal communications skills and a commitment to helping people improve their lives.
What does a probation officer/parole agent do?
Although the tasks for probation officers and parole officers are basically the same, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, there is one core difference: Probation officers (also known as community supervision officers) are charged with monitoring convicted criminals placed on probation, usually in lieu of a prison sentence. Parole officers (also called parole agents), on the other hand, monitor convicts who have completed their prison sentences and are now released as a condition of the sentence. Both officers supervise the behavior of convicts to ensure that all terms of the probation or parole are met. For the purposes of this article, both terms will be used alternately.
Probation officers also serve as counselors. They guide their charges toward positive behaviors and help them seek assistance in areas including substance abuse treatment and job training. Officers maintain personal interactions with the probationer, their friends and family, and other primary contacts (employers, teachers and religious leaders). They function as liaisons, providing information on recommendations and court proceedings to the subjects and their families.
Parole agents conduct regular meetings with their subjects and provide the court with results of these meetings, combined with their own investigations in comprehensive reports. They also may be called upon to testify in court.
Probation officers may have a caseload of 100 clients or more at a time, depending on jurisdiction. While small, rural agencies may combine adults and juveniles, officers usually work exclusively with one age group. Click here to find out how to become a probation officer.
What kind of training does a probation officer/parole agent need?
Prospective candidates must have at least a bachelor degree in law, criminal justice or related field. Typically, there is a mandatory state or federal training program, which includes extensive written, oral, and psychological tests. Officers are generally hired on a probationary period of up to one year. Click here for a list of online criminal justice degree programs.
Persons with past felony convictions are not eligible. Minimum age is usually 21. Federal agencies have a maximum application age of 37. (1)
What are the prospects for a career as a probation officer/parole agent?
Career prospects for this field are expected to grow by about 11% by 2016, from about 94,000 jobs to about 105,000. The highest growth is anticipated in local and state government institutions. (1) Click here to find your path to a parole agent or probation officer career.
How much do probation officers make?
Entry-level salaries start around $28,400. Advancement to senior management positions increase potential earnings to $75,700 or more. (2)
A career as a probation officer will be demanding, but also very rewarding. The strong employment outlook and vital nature of this field make it an excellent choice for law and criminal justice program graduates.