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Parole is a reprieve granted to inmates for good behavior after they serve a set amount of time in prison. It offers them the freedom to serve the remainder of their jail sentence in the outside world as long as they adhere to certain conditions, primarily checking in with a parole officer.
What Is a Parole Officer?
Parole officers are responsible for supervising individuals who have been in prison and are granted parole. Parole doesn't mean a prisoner is free. Rather, parole allows someone who was incarcerated to return to life in the outside world, but under certain restrictions.
A parole officer is similar to a probation officer, but there is a key distinction: People granted probation were never incarcerated. They are sentenced to a probationary period, during which they live under restrictions determined by the court, including regularly checking in with a probation officer.
How to Become a Parole Officer
The qualifications for becoming a parole officer vary by state. Most states require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, psychology, corrections or social work before you can become a parole officer. Some state and federal parole agencies may require a master's degree in criminal justice. Training sessions and certifications are also required by most states, either before you're hired or upon being hired.
In Georgia, for example, parole officers must have a four-year degree at a minimum, but a master's in criminal justice is preferred. Georgia parole officers must become certified state peace officers, and once hired, they will have the authority to carry a gun and arrest parolees. To become a parole officer in Georgia, you should have at least one year of law enforcement experience, and preference is given to candidates fluent in Spanish or Chinese. These requirements are in place for a majority of states.
In every state, you must be 21 in order to be a parole officer, and you will have to submit to a background check and drug test before being hired.
What Parole Officers Do
Parole officers supervise people who have served time in prison. Often, they visit the parolee's home or place of work. They help connect parolees with necessary government services, including job assistance, education, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. The primary goal of a parole officer is to to help parolees rejoin the community and prevent a return to prison.
Your duties as a parole officer may include:
- Interviewing felons to assess risk and needs.
- Preparing reports on your caseload of offenders, and providing recommendations.
- Maintaining physical and electronic documents related to your caseload of offenders.
- Conducting periodic screenings for drug or alcohol use.
How Much Do You Make as a Parole Officer?
According to the Bureau of Labor, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists – which includes parole officers – earned an average salary of $50,160 in 2016. However, pay can vary a lot by state. In California, for example, parole officers can earn as much as $110,000 annually.
In addition to earning a decent salary as a parole officer, you can also feel satisfied that you're contributing to society and helping people get a second chance at life.
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Heather Skyler is a journalist and novelist who has written for wide variety of publications, including Newsweek, The New York Times and SKY magazine.