Probation officers serve the public by supervising criminal offenders. The courts have granted the criminal release into the community instead of ordering a prison term. Probation officers work with not only offenders but their families, victims, law enforcement personnel and community agencies. They deal with sensitive information and protect public welfare. As such, they require a special set of skills in order to effectively perform their job duties. No matter the jurisdiction, proper training is included in their job preparation.
- Skill level:
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Graduate from college or university with a four-year degree. While some jurisdictions accept any type of degree, most probation departments prefer a related field such as criminal justice, behavioural sciences, psychology or social work. Advanced degrees may be required by some agencies. At a minimum, a master's degree provides the applicant with an edge and with promotion opportunities.
Obtain the required work experience. While this varies between jurisdictions, most departments view related experience in corrections, counselling, social work, case management, investigation, education or similar fields as qualifying experience.
Complete required application paperwork. This can usually be found on departmental website and will have additional specific requirements for that jurisdiction.
Submit to background check and drug testing.
Take any written or oral exams, usually given during the interview process.
Get hired. Attend any training mandated by the jurisdiction. Training may last from a few hours to several weeks, depending on the locale. However, most departments give the candidate from one to two years to complete department-sponsored training.
Tips and warnings
- Many departments, especially those with high percentages of Spanish-speakers in the community, prefer applicants who have a basic ability to communicate in Spanish.
- Probation officer work can be very stressful as employees deal largely with some resistant and dangerous individuals. A felony on one's record may exclude the individual from employment.
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