In order to operate efficiently, the parole system -- which allows prisoners to leave prison before their full sentence is completed -- needs to be monitored by men and women dedicated to making sure parolees remain law-abiding citizens. Parole officers serve a role in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders by helping them obtain job training, housing and counseling, when necessary.
Many parole officer positions require a four-year degree in criminal justice, sociology, social work or a related field of study. In some cases, an associate's degree and relevant work experience can substitute for a bachelor's degree. Parole officers seeking more senior or supervisory positions, can pursue a master's degree. In addition, many employers require a parole officer be at least 21 years of age, be proficient with a firearm and undergo background checks and drug tests.
Parole officers interact with recently-released prisoners and their families in order to help them become productive members of society. They develop a plan of action for parolees that may include finding a job, securing low-cost housing and making sure parolees attend court-mandated programs. Parole officers typically visit a parolee several times a month to check in on their well-being and to evaluate potential signs of recidivism. During these visits, parole officers are authorized to search a parolees premises, and if they find something illegal such as drugs or weapons, they can make a recommendation to the parole board to rescind parole.
The job of a parole officer is a demanding and requires a significant amount of patience and the awareness that violence could occur at any moment. Though case load differs based on location, parole officers can be assigned as many as 70 cases, and in California, some officers deal with 200 cases at a time, according to Slate. Parole officers spend much of their day traveling from one parolee to another and some of the areas they frequent may have high crime rates. Though parole officers work 40-hour weeks, they must always be available for emergency situations that involve one of their cases.
Employment and Salary
Parole officers are usually employed by local and state governments or the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons which supervises criminals convicted of federal offenses. The job outlook for parole officers is positive as more states revisit their mandatory sentencing guidelines, which may result in more prisoners being released on parole, creating a demand for additional parole officers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of 2009, the annual median salary of a parole officer was listed as $46,530.