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.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists typically have an interest in the Helping, Persuading and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.
If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Persuading or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a probation officer and correctional treatment specialist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists should also possess the following specific qualities:
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.