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How Do I Become a Probation Officer?

Probation officers work in criminal rehabilitation to monitor offenders who aren't incarcerated. Find out what it takes to become a probation officer, and get some basic career information by reading on.

Career Defined

As a probation officer, you'll be responsible for monitoring both criminal offenders who are awaiting sentencing and offenders who are serving probationary sentences. You'll normally be employed by state or federal criminal agencies, and you'll serve as the justice system's main point of contact during the probation period. On a daily basis, you can expect to work with offenders and their families to create and implement a plan that addresses the needs of the offender. This may include gathering and providing social resources, such as employment and housing assistance.

Important Facts About Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Median Salary (2018) $53,020
Job Outlook 6% growth from 2016-2026
Required Education Bachelor's degree
Key Skills Proficient oral and written communication, critical thinking, quick decision making, emotional stability, organized
Similar Occupations Correctional officer, police officer, detective, social worker, social and human service assistant, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education

To become a probation officer, you'll typically be expected to hold an undergraduate degree in a field related to corrections, like criminal justice, psychology, or social work. These types of programs prepare you for the social and psychological challenges this career involves. If you don't have previous work experience or if you're seeking out advanced career opportunities in probation work, then it's recommended that you acquire a master's degree.

Experience

It's ideal that you have some previous experience in a corrections-related position before becoming a probation officer. Due to this line of work being extremely demanding and sometimes dangerous, employers prefer if you have some prior experience dealing with criminals. If you're looking to work at the federal level, then you'll at least need two years of experience as a regular probation officer. Work traits you'll want to possess include good listening skills, excellent interpersonal communication skills, and a keen eye for suspicious behavior.

Training

After being hired on, you'll normally receive several months of on-the-job training before serving in a full capacity. Such training is sponsored by the state or federal government. Afterwards, several certification examinations are offered to you. These tests cover areas like writing skills, verbal skills, physical skills, and psychological status. Once you pass the tests, you'll work in a trainee position for typically a year before being able to work full time.