Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment
- State and local governments employ most workers.
- A bachelors degree in social work, criminal justice, or a related field
usually is required.
- Employment growth, which is projected to be about as fast as average,
depends on government funding.
Many people who are convicted of crimes are placed on probation instead of
being sent to prison. During probation, offenders must stay out of trouble and
meet various other requirements. Probation officers, who are called
community supervision officers in some States, supervise people who have been
placed on probation. Correctional treatment specialists, who may also be
known as case managers, counsel and create rehabilitation plans for offenders to
follow when they are no longer in prison or on parole.
Parole officers and pretrial services officers perform many of
the same duties that probation officers perform. The difference is that parole
officers supervise offenders who have been released from prison, whereas
probation officers work with those who are sentenced to probation instead of
prison. In some States, the jobs of parole and probation officers are combined.
Pretrial services officers conduct pretrial investigations, the findings of
which help determine whether suspects should be released before their trial.
When suspects are released before their trial, pretrial services officers
supervise them to make sure they adhere to the terms of their release and that
they show up for trial. Occasionally, in the Federal courts system, probation
officers perform the functions of pretrial services officers.
Probation officers supervise offenders on probation or parole through
personal contact with the offenders and their families. Instead of requiring
offenders to meet officers in their offices, many officers meet offenders in
their homes and at their places of employment or therapy. Probation and parole
agencies also seek the assistance of community organizations, such as religious
institutions, neighborhood groups, and local residents, to monitor the behavior
of many offenders. Some offenders are required to wear an electronic device so
that probation officers can monitor their location and movements. Probation
officers may arrange for offenders to get substance abuse rehabilitation or job
training. Probation officers usually work with either adults or juveniles
exclusively. Only in small, usually rural, jurisdictions do probation officers
counsel both adults and juveniles.
Probation officers also spend much of their time working for the courts. They
investigate the backgrounds of the accused, write presentence reports, and
recommend sentences. They review sentencing recommendations with offenders and
their families before submitting them to the court. Probation officers may be
required to testify in court as to their findings and recommendations. They also
attend hearings to update the court on offenders efforts at rehabilitation and
compliance with the terms of their sentences.
Correctional treatment specialists work in jails, prisons, or parole or
probation agencies. In jails and prisons, they evaluate the progress of inmates.
They also work with inmates, probation officers, and other agencies to develop
parole and release plans. Their case reports are provided to the appropriate
parole board when their clients are eligible for release. In addition, they plan
education and training programs to improve offenders job skills and provide
them with coping, anger management, and drug and sexual abuse counseling either
individually or in groups. They usually write treatment plans and summaries for
each client. Correctional treatment specialists working in parole and probation
agencies perform many of the same duties as their counterparts who work in
The number of cases a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist
handles at one time depends on the needs of offenders and the risks they pose.
Higher risk offenders and those who need more counseling usually command more of
the officers time and resources. Caseload size also varies by agency
jurisdiction. Consequently, officers may handle from 20 to more than 100 active
cases at a time.
Computers, telephones, and fax machines enable the officers to handle the
caseload. Probation officers may telecommute from their homes. Other
technological advancements, such as electronic monitoring devices and drug
screening, also have assisted probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists in supervising and counseling offenders.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with criminal
offenders, some of whom may be dangerous. In the course of supervising
offenders, they usually interact with many other individuals, such as family
members and friends of their clients, who may be angry, 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 and correctional treatment specialists are required to meet
many court-imposed deadlines, which contribute to heavy workloads.
In addition, extensive travel and fieldwork may be required to meet with
offenders who are on probation or parole. Workers may be required to carry a
firearm or other weapon for protection. They generally work a 40-hour week, but
some may work longer. They may be on call 24 hours a day to supervise and assist
offenders at any time. They also may be required to collect and transport urine
samples of offenders for drug testing. All of these factors make for a stressful
work environment. Although the high stress levels can make these jobs very
difficult at times, this work also can be very rewarding. Many workers obtain
personal satisfaction from counseling members of their community and helping
them become productive citizens.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Background qualifications for probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists vary by State, but a bachelors degree in social work, criminal
justice, or a related field is usually required. Some employers require previous
experience or a masters degree in criminal justice, social work, psychology, or
a related field.
Applicants usually are administered written, oral, psychological, and
physical examinations. Most probation officers and some correctional treatment
specialists are required to complete a training program sponsored by their State
government or the Federal Government, after which a certification test may be
Prospective probation officers or correctional treatment specialists should
be in good physical and emotional condition. Most agencies require applicants to
be at least 21 years old and, for Federal employment, not older than 37. Those
convicted of felonies may not be eligible for employment in this occupation.
Familiarity with the use of computers often is required due to the increasing
use of computer technology in probation and parole work. Candidates also should
be knowledgeable about laws and regulations pertaining to corrections. Probation
officers and correctional treatment specialists should have strong writing
skills because they are required to prepare many reports.
Most probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work as
trainees or on a probationary period for up to a year before being offered a
permanent position. A typical agency has several levels of probation and parole
officers and correctional treatment specialists, as well as supervisors. A
graduate degree, such as a masters degree in criminal justice, social work, or
psychology, may be helpful for advancement.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists held about 93,000
jobs in 2004. Most jobs are in State or local governments. In some States, the
State government employs all probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists; in other States, local governments are the only employers. In still
other States, both levels of government employ these workers. Jobs are more
plentiful in urban areas. Probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists who work for the Federal Government are employed by the U.S. courts
and by the U.S. Department of Justices Bureau of Prisons.
Employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is
projected to grow about as fast as
the average for all occupations through 2014. In addition to openings due to
growth, many openings will be created by replacement needs, especially openings
due to the large number of these workers who are expected to retire. This
occupation is not attractive to some potential entrants due to relatively low
earnings, heavy workloads, and high stress.
Mandatory sentencing guidelines calling for longer sentences and reduced
parole for inmates have resulted in a large increase in the prison population.
However, mandatory sentencing guidelines are being reconsidered in many States
because of budgetary constraints, court decisions, and doubts about the
guidelines effectiveness. Instead, there may be more emphasis in many States on
rehabilitation and alternate forms of punishment, such as probation, spurring
demand for probation and parole officers and correctional treatment specialists.
However, the job outlook depends primarily on the amount of government funding
that is allocated to corrections, and especially to probation systems. Although
community supervision is far less expensive than keeping offenders in prison, a
change in political trends toward more imprisonment and away from community
supervision could result in reduced employment opportunities.
Median annual earnings of probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists in May 2004 were $39,600. The middle 50 percent earned between
$31,500 and $52,100. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,310, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $66,660. In May 2004, median annual earnings
for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists employed in State
government were $39,810; those employed in local government earned $40,560.
Higher wages tend to be found in urban areas.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists counsel criminal
offenders while they are in prison or on parole. Other occupations that involve
similar responsibilities include
social workers, social and
human service assistants, and
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists also play a major
role in maintaining public safety. Other occupations related to corrections and
law enforcement include police and
officers, and firefighting
Sources of Additional Information
For information about criminal justice job opportunities in your area,
contact your States department of corrections, criminal justice, or probation.
Further information about probation officers and correctional treatment
specialists is available from:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos265.htm
(visited April 06, 2006).
According to the
book description of Probation Officer, Parole Officer, “This classic guide has helped thousands of applicants to qualify
for probation and parole officer positions in criminal justice systems nationwide. Newly revised and updated, the guide offers
six full-length sample exams for practice, complete information on application procedures and eligibility requirements, and
correctional concepts and principles of parole.” According to the book description of Master the Probation Officer/Parole
Officer, “This guide is top of the line prep for careers in criminal justice. Probation and parole officers enjoy the
challenges of supervising and rehabilitating criminals. With this guide, readers will get: A look at eligibility requirements
and application procedures and 6 practice tests for the qualifying exams.”