Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Holding the Line: What It's Like to Be a Probation Officer

The true goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate people convicted of crimes, not just to punish them for wrongdoing. The rehabilitation process is complex and one of the most important figures in a person's return to society is his or her probation or parole officer. There are tens of thousands of jobs in the United States economy for probation officers. Those who have the necessary skills are in high demand for this challenging but rewarding career.

What Probation Officers Do

image via Flickr by John Linwood
probation officer's job is to manage the cases of several individuals who have recently been released from prison and need to maintain certain requirements to remain free. This includes finding steady employment and housing, remaining drug free, violating no other laws, and maintaining contact with a parole officer for updates. These and other tasks make this an ideal job for people who are detail oriented, have good interpersonal skills, and excellent written and oral communication skills.

Becoming a Probation Officer

Work as a probation officer is entry level and requires no prior experience. It does require college coursework, with preference for those with criminal justice degrees. The minimum age to become a probation officer in most states is 20, and an individual must be a legal resident of the United States before applying.
In addition to a college degree, probation officer candidates must undergo physical and psychological examination to determine fitness for service. This won't be as rigorous as exams for police officers, but it will require a clean bill of health from a physician and psychologist. Probation officers must not have a criminal background themselves.

Finding Work as a Probation Officer

Every state has different requirements for those applying for work as a probation officer, so interested parties should find out what their state demands by doing some research online. All state corrections agencies will have this information, and some states contract with independent organizations that offer parole services. As in any field, volunteer experience will improve an aspiring probation officer's resume. Ideal places to get relevant experience are in social services organizations.

The Day to Day of Probation Work

Probation officers have a variety of job responsibilities, from formal desk work to community outreach. Officers receive on-the-job training in everything from state parole law to drug testing procedures and conflict de-escalation tactics. Depending on the needs of the district, officers may receive weapons training and be issued firearms or non-lethal arms (pepper spray, Tasers, etc.) for visits to parolees in the field.

The schedule of a probation officer can be erratic, so it's definitely not a traditional 9-to-5 position. It also rarely involves a low-key work environment. Probation officers are expected to regularly visit parolees at their residences, which may include halfway houses and other monitored living facilities. Comfort interacting with a variety of people in a wide array of environments is essential.
Probation officers do the necessary work in the most crucial period of a struggling person's experience in the criminal justice system. With the right education, training, and experience, a probation officer can be the difference between an offender's rehabilitation and recidivism.