Probation and Parole Officer

The role of the probation officer and the parole officer is to supervise and work with individuals that have been convicted of crimes. But each officer is responsible for a slightly different part of the criminal justice network. For example, the probation officer works with an offender who has been given probation in lieu of serving time in jail for their conviction. The parole officer, on the other hand, works with an offender who has been released from prison and is serving “parole” outside of the prison walls.

During their time out of jail the task of the probation officer and the parole officer is to supervise and observe that these individuals maintain a conduct of staying out of trouble. These officers are responsible to work one-on-one in close personal contact with the offender. For the officer's safety, this may take the form of meeting with the individual in a public location, a business location, or in a therapy group session.

In metropolitan areas, a probation officer and a parole officer will generally specialize within specific age groups, working with adults or younger juveniles exclusively. In some smaller jurisdictions, the responsibilities of the probation and parole officers are generally combined into a single job title.

These officers also periodically interface with the judicial court system on behalf of the individual, where testimony is provided in regards to the offender's compliance to the terms of the probation or parole release plan. The offender's release plan may include an educational component, a training requirement, or a series of specialized counseling sessions. Once released, the offender is under the guidance of a specific probation officer or a parole officer, where the task is to maintain an adherence to the guidelines of the release plan. If the guidelines are not met, the offender could be returned to prison. A probation officer and a parole officer may handle from 20 to over 100 individuals at any given time.

The work environment for a probation officer and a parole officer can be very stressful, dangerous, and sometimes even violent, especially if the offender is classified as high risk that requires extensive anger management counseling. The career of a probation officer and a parole officer, however, can also be very rewarding personally, knowing that you are contributing to lead a person back into society as a productive member.

Work in the System as a Probation Officer

Following the completion of a criminal justice, psychology, or social work degree, many individuals choose to work for the state or county as a probation officer. Over the last century, society has shied away from the punishment and incarceration of non-violent criminal offenders and has started to embrace the philosophy of rehabilitation and reintegrating these individuals into mainstream society. This process is achieved through a joint effort of the judicial system, probation and parole officers, and correctional treatment specialists. Learn the facts about work in probation to discern your aptitude for this rising career.

Although their job titles are frequently used interchangeably, a probation officer is not the same as a parole officer. The job descriptions are similar and some smaller municipalities may combine the positions. A criminal is placed on probation instead of going to jail. The probation sentence may include time serving the community as a volunteer, mandatory counseling or substance abuse treatment, and meeting with a probation officer frequently to assess progress. If time has been spent in prison, the criminal is released on parole, not probation. The parole period may include similar treatment and rehabilitation methods as a probationary period, including therapy and frequent monitoring of the ex-convict.

Prior to a disposition hearing, the probation officer may play a role in developing sentencing. Many officers work closely with the courts, research similar cases and the probationer's offense history, and develop a sentencing recommendation. The probation officer may discuss this sentencing option with probationers and their families prior to trial. Once the court orders the sentence, the probation officer's main role is to help each probationer in his or her caseload meet the sentence without further incident. Sentencing options for probationers may include rehabilitation modalities while the individual is allowed to return home for the duration of the supervisory period. Sentencing options reflect the crime committed and may include time spent volunteering in the community, frequent drug testing and substance abuse classes, wearing electronic devices on house arrest, mental health therapy, and even the imposition of a curfew.

One of the myriad duties of a probation officer is to act as a case manager. You must be well organized and disciplined to manage multiple cases at a time. Depending on the severity of the offense, you may be meeting with a specific probationer daily, weekly, or even monthly if he or she is on the right track and following the sentencing requirements carefully. At any given time, you may be managing up to 100 cases or more. Your caseload will largely depend on the nature of the crimes committed by each probationer, how many probation officers are in your agency, and the size of the municipality you are covering. Each case managed will have specific goals and a definitive end point. Probationary periods vary by court sentencing and can last weeks, months, or even up to a year.

Most probation officers require a bachelor's degree to gain access to the system, although the requirements vary by state. The education should support the work in corrections. A degree in criminal justice is a frequently used platform for jobs in this field, due to the fact that students obtain a well-rounded education on criminal concepts, psychology of offenders, and the justice system in one degree. Additional courses in probationary and corrections work are available as electives during schooling or as workshops upon graduation. Depending on the state or county, candidates will also require pre-hire drug testing, character screening, and a medical examination to determine physical and mental capacity to perform as a probation officer.

These officers work at the state or county level and will usually work with either adult or juvenile offenders, not both. Personal contact is required with the probationers, their significant others, therapists, and even community members. Meetings and observation may occur in the probationer's home, place of employment, or during therapy sessions or rehabilitation meetings.

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