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How to Become a Probation Officer

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Probation Officer Education, Earnings and Career Prospects

If you often find yourself watching crime dramas while also hoping to make a difference, consider becoming a probation officer. As an officer, you'll work with people who are on probation living and working in the community, rather than being in prison. While this career may present some challenges for working parents, as schedules can be unpredictable, it also doesn't require many years of schooling. Plus, depending on your jurisdiction, you may be able to earn a decent wage along with solid benefits.

Job Description

When an individual is convicted of a crime, a judge may sentence her to probation. Under probation, the individual (known as a probationer) is allowed to remain outside of a correctional institution but must adhere to strict behavioral guidelines set by the court. As a probation officer, you will provide supervision to these individuals in various ways, including:

  • Meeting regularly with the probationer and, in some cases, her family
  • Developing a rehabilitation plan
  • Testing the probationer for drugs and inspecting her home for contraband or forbidden technologies (such as internet access for someone who has been ordered offline)
  • Verifying compliance with employment, substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling requirements
  • Writing and submitting reports to the court

Education Requirements

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the requirements for becoming a probation offer vary by jurisdiction. In most cases, however, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant discipline, such as criminal justice, social work or psychology.

As a new hire, you'll receive training from your department before you begin work in the field. Depending on your employer's policies, you may also be required to spend time as a trainee officer, directly under someone with more experience. Being able to speak Spanish is often an asset in this profession, and you may find that taking classes to improve your fluency will not only make your job easier, it may also help you advance in your career.

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for this profession was $55,690 as of May 2020. The bottom 10 percent of earners made less than $36,990 annually, and the top 10 percent earned more than $98,510.

About the Industry

As a probation officer, you'll probably work at least some of the time in an office maintained by your department. However, you can expect to spend a lot of time on the road as you meet with the probationers in your care. Overtime is not uncommon in this profession, given the amount of travel and paperwork required, which may be a consideration if you have young children or there isn't another adult at home that can provide consistent child care.

Years of Experience

According to a survey by PayScale.com, you can expect to earn more in this profession as you gain experience. Below is a table showing how annual median wages of survey respondents corresponded to their years in the profession:

  • 0-5 years: $37,000 
  • 5-10 years: $42,000 
  • 10-20 years: $46,000 
  • 20+ years: $59,000 

Job Growth Trend

The BLS estimates that employment in this field will grow four percent between 2020 and 2030, which is considered below average job growth compared to all industries in the United States. Employment opportunities and compensation levels depend, in part, on where you live, so if your family is willing to relocate, you may improve your career prospects.