Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists assist in rehabilitation of law offenders in custody or on probation or parole.
What they do
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists typically do the following:
- Interview with probationers and parolees, their friends, and their relatives in an office or at a residence to assess progress
- Evaluate probationers and parolees to determine the best course of rehabilitation
- Provide probationers and parolees with resources, such as job training
- Test offenders for drugs and offer substance abuse counseling
- Complete prehearing investigations and testify in court regarding offender’s backgrounds
- Write reports and maintain case files on offenders
The following are examples of types of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists:
Probation officers, who are sometimes referred to as community supervision officers, supervise people who have been placed on probation instead of sent to prison. They work to ensure that the probationer is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation through frequent visits with the probationer. Probation officers write reports that detail each probationer’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 prison and are serving parole, helping them re-enter society. Parole officers monitor post-release parolees 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 parolee’s behavior and thus reduce the risk of that person committing another crime and having to return to prison.
Both probation and parole officers supervise probationers and parolees through personal contact with them and their families (also known as community supervision). Probation and parole officers require regularly scheduled contact with parolees and probationers by telephone or through office visits, and they also check on them at their homes or places of work. When making home visits, probation and parole officers take into account the safety of the neighborhood in which the probationers and parolees live and any mental health considerations that may be pertinent. Probation and parole officers also oversee drug testing and electronic monitoring of those under supervision. In some states, workers perform the duties of both probation and parole officers.
Pretrial services officers investigate a pretrial defendant’s background to determine if the defendant 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 (in settled cases with no trial) or bond amount. When pretrial defendants 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 probationers and parolees and develop rehabilitation plans for them to follow. They may evaluate inmates using questionnaires and psychological tests. They also work with inmates, parole officers, and staff of other agencies to develop parole and release plans. For example, they may plan education and training programs to improve probationers’ 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 inmates are eligible for release, the case reports are given to the appropriate parole board. The specialist may help set up counseling for the parolees 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 parolee’s progress.
The number of cases a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist handles at one time depends on the needs of individuals under supervision and the risks associated with each individual. Higher risk probationers usually command more of an officer’s time and resources. Caseload size also varies by agency.
Improved tests for drug screening and electronic devices to monitor clients help probation officers and correctional treatment specialists supervise and counsel probationers.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with probationers and parolees. While supervising individuals, 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.
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists may have court deadlines imposed by the statute of limitations. In addition, many officers travel to perform home and employment checks and property searches. Because of the hostile environments they may encounter, some may carry a firearm or pepper spray for protection.
All of these factors, in addition to the challenge some officers experience in dealing with probationers and parolees who violate the terms of their release, can 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 sometimes lead to working overtime and variable hours. For example, many agencies rotate an on-call officer position. When these workers are on-call, they must respond to any issues with probationers, parolees, or law enforcement 24 hours a day. Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to more hours of work.
How to become a Probation Officer and/or Correctional Treatment Specialist
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists usually need a bachelor’s degree. In addition, most employers require candidates to pass competency exams, drug testing, and a criminal background check.
A valid driver’s license is often required, and most agencies require applicants to be at least 21 years old.
A bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences, or a related field is usually required. Requirements vary by jurisdiction.
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 and correctional treatment specialists specialize in a certain type of casework. For example, an officer may work only with domestic violence probationers or deal only with substance abuse cases. Some may work only cases involving juvenile offenders. Officers receive the appropriate specific training so that they are better prepared to help that type of probationer.
Although job requirements vary, work experience obtained by way of internships in courthouses or with probationers in the criminal justice field can be helpful for some positions.
The median annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $54,290 in May 2019. 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 $36,370, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,860.
Employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Employment growth depends primarily on the amount of state and local government funding for corrections, especially the amount allocated to probation and parole systems.
Because community corrections is viewed as an economically viable alternative to incarceration in some cases, demand for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists should continue. Parole officers will continue to be needed to supervise individuals who will be released from prison in the future.
Similar Job Titles
Adult Probation Officer, Correctional Counselor, Deputy Probation Officer (DPO), Juvenile Probation Officer, Parole Agent, Parole Officer (PO), Probation Agent, Probation and Parole Officer, Probation Counselor, Probation Officer
Educational, Guidance, School and Vocational Counselor; Child, Family and School Social Worker; Social and Human Service Assistant; Arbitrator, Mediator and Conciliator; Secondary School Teacher (except Special and Career/Technical Education)
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Correctional Association
- American Probation and Parole Association
- Correctional Peace Officers Foundation
- Fraternal Order of Police
- National Association of Forensic Counselors
- National Association of Social Workers
- National Council on Crime and Delinquency
Magazines and Publications
When a judge hands someone a sentence of time on probation, the individual often has major issues to sort out. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists help people on probation get reestablished in a positive direction, and avoid further trouble. These officers and specialists work with individuals who are given probation instead of jail time, who are still in prison, or who have been released from prison. Work starts with meetings to form a rehabilitation plan. The plan might include any supports needed for the individual’s success, such as housing, substance abuse treatment, legal help, mental health counseling, or job training, as well as an agreement about regular check-ins. Documentation of meetings and activities is a significant part of the job. As a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist, you can expect to encounter visits to hostile environments, strict court-imposed deadlines, and the frustration of seeing some of your clients violate the terms of their release. State and local government facilities employ the majority of these workers, where on-call shifts may be required in addition to full-time work. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as criminal justice or social work, is required. Extensive training on the job is provided. Candidates must pass competency tests, drug tests, and a criminal background check. In this field, you must be both strong and compassionate, to help your clients build a better future.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org