Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with and monitor offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists typically do the following:
- Evaluate offenders to determine the best course of rehabilitation
- Provide offenders with resources, such as job training
- Test offenders for drugs and offer substance-abuse counseling
- Monitor offenders and help with their progress
- Conduct meetings with offenders and their family and friends
- Write reports on the progress of offenders
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with offenders who are given probation instead of jail time, who are still in prison, or who have been released from prison.
The following are examples of types of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists:
Probation officers, who are called community supervision officers in some states, supervise people who have been placed on probation instead of being sent to prison. They work to ensure that the offender is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation. Probation officers write reports that detail each offender’s treatment plan and their progress since being put on probation. Most work exclusively with either adults or juveniles.
Parole officers work with people who have been released from jail and are serving parole, to help them re-enter society. Parole officers monitor post-release offenders and provide them with information on various resources, such as substance-abuse counseling or job training, to aid in their rehabilitation. By doing so, the officers try to change the offenders’ behavior and thus reduce the risk of that person committing another crime and having to return to prison.
Both probation and parole officers supervise offenders through personal contact with the offenders and their families. Probation and parole officers require regularly scheduled contact with offenders by telephone or through office visits, and they also may check on offenders at their homes or places of work. Probation and parole officers also oversee drug testing and electronic monitoring of offenders. In some states, officers do the jobs of both probation and parole officers.
Pretrial services officers investigate an offender’s background to determine if the offender can be safely allowed back into the community before his or her trial date. Officers must assess the risk and make a recommendation to a judge who decides on the appropriate sentencing or bond amount. When offenders are allowed back into the community, pretrial officers supervise them to make sure that they stay within the terms of their release and appear at their trials.
Correctional treatment specialists, also known as case managers or correctional counselors, advise offenders and develop rehabilitation plans for them to follow when they are no longer in prison or on parole. They may evaluate inmates using questionnaires and psychological tests. They also work with inmates, probation officers, and staff of other agencies to develop parole and release plans. For example, they may plan education and training programs to improve offenders’ job skills.
Correctional treatment specialists write case reports that cover the inmate’s history and the likelihood that he or she will commit another crime. When offenders are eligible for release, the case reports are given to the appropriate parole board. The specialist may help set up counseling for the offenders and their families, find substance-abuse or mental health treatment options, aid in job placement, and find housing. Correctional treatment specialists also explain the terms and conditions of the prisoner’s release and keep detailed written accounts of each offender’s progress.
The number of cases a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist handles at one time depends on the needs of offenders and the risks associated with each individual. Higher-risk offenders usually command more of the officer’s time and resources. Caseload size also varies by agency.
Technological advancements—such as improved tests for drug screening and electronic devices to monitor clients—help probation officers and correctional treatment specialists supervise and counsel offenders.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists held about 90,300 jobs in 2012. Nearly all worked for state or local governments.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with criminal offenders, some of whom may be dangerous. While supervising offenders, they may interact with others, such as family members and friends of their clients, who may be 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 must meet many court-imposed deadlines, which contributes to heavy workloads and extensive paperwork. Many officers travel to perform home and employment checks and property searches. Because of the hostile environments probation officers may encounter, some may carry a firearm or pepper spray for protection.
All of these factors, as well as the frustration some officers experience in dealing with offenders who violate the terms of their release, contribute to a stressful work environment. Although the high stress levels can make the job difficult at times, this work can also be rewarding. Many officers and specialists receive personal satisfaction from counseling members of their community and helping them become productive citizens.
Although many officers and specialists work full time, the demands of the job often lead to working long hours. For example, many agencies rotate an on-call officer position. When these workers are on-call, they must respond to any issues with offenders or law enforcement 24 hours a day. Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to more hours of work.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists usually need a bachelor’s degree. In addition, most employers require candidates to pass oral, written, and psychological exams.
A bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences, or a related field is usually required. Some employers require a master’s degree in a related field.
Most probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must complete a training program sponsored by their state government or the federal government, after which they may have to pass a certification test. In addition, they may be required to work as trainees for up to 1 year before being offered a permanent position.
Some probation officers specialize in a certain type of casework. For example, an officer may work only with domestic violence offenders or deal only with substance-abuse cases. Officers receive training specific to the group that they are working with so that they are better prepared to help that type of offender.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most agencies require applicants to be at least 21 years old and, for federal employment, not older than 37 years of age. In addition, most departments require candidates to have a record free of felony convictions and to submit to drug testing.
A valid driver’s license is often required.
Although job requirements vary, previous work experience in probation, pretrial services, parole, corrections, criminal investigations, substance abuse treatment, social work, or counseling can be helpful in the hiring process.
Previous experience working in court houses or with offenders in the criminal justice field can also be useful for some positions.
Advancement to supervisory positions is primarily based on experience and performance. A master’s degree in criminal justice, social work, or psychology may be required for advancement.
Communication skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to effectively interact with many different people.
Critical-thinking skills. Workers must be able to assess the needs of individual offenders before determining the best resources for helping them.
Decision-making skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must consider the relative costs and benefits of potential actions and be able to choose appropriately.
Emotional stability. Workers must cope with hostile individuals or otherwise upsetting circumstances on the job.
Organizational skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to manage multiple cases at the same time.
The median annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $48,190 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $31,590, and the top 10 percent earned more than $83,410.
Although many officers and specialists work full time, the demands of the job often lead to working long hours. For example, many agencies rotate an on-call officer position. When these workers are on-call, they must respond to any issues with offenders or law enforcement 24 hours a day.
Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to more hours of work.
Compared with workers in all occupations, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022.
Employment growth depends primarily on the amount of state and local government funding for corrections, especially the amount allocated to probation and parole systems. Limited state and local government funding for corrections over the coming decade will stall employment growth.
However, as alternative forms of punishment, such as probation, continue to be used, some demand for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists should continue. Parole officers will be needed to supervise individuals who will be released from prison in the future.
Many job openings will result from the need to replace those who leave the occupation each year. Competition for jobs should be lessened as heavy workloads and high job-related stress deter some from seeking this kind of work. For these reasons, job opportunities should be plentiful for those who qualify.
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For more information about criminal justice job opportunities in your area, contact the departments of corrections, criminal justice, or probation for individual states.