Probation/Parole Officer

Convicted criminals are often placed on probation in lieu of prison sentences. Individuals who've completed their prison sentences often get placed on parole after being released. While on probation or parole, convicted criminals are required to remain drug free, refrain from committing crimes, and adhere to other requirements. Correctional treatment specialists and probation/parole officers follow-up with people on parole or probation to ensure they remain crime free and live productive lives.

Probation officers, also known as community supervision officers in certain areas, monitor convicted criminals serving probation sentences. Correctional treatment specialists, also known as correctional counselors or case managers in certain areas, counselor rehabilitated criminals and create and implement structured plans designed to help released prisoners adjust to their new life and prevent recidivism. Parole officers have similar responsibilities as probation officers, but parole officers monitor released prison inmates, while probation officers assist individuals serving probation sentences rather than prison sentences. Pretrial services officers perform pretrial evaluations to determine if suspected criminals should remain free prior to being tried in court. In most regions nationwide, parole is administered by state governments, and probation is administered by county governments.

Parole and probation officers are responsible for supervising people serving parole and probation sentences. These specialists regularly meet with people they're responsible for monitoring. Parole and probation officers usually meet offenders at state or county office buildings and offenders' homes and site of employment. Parole and probation agencies ask church congregations, neighbors, and community groups to pay attention to offenders and report unusual behavioral patterns. While serving probation or parole sentences, some offenders are required to wear electronic anklets to keep track of where they spend their time. Probation and parole officers assist the people they supervise obtain vocational training and drug rehabilitation counseling.

In addition to meeting with clients and assisting them, probation officers serve as court liaisons and perform other court related tasks. They write reports, conduct background investigations, and recommend probation or jail sentences for offenders. Often, probation officers gather offenders and their families to summarize sentencing recommendations before presenting them to judges. Occasionally, they testify at hearings to explain their recommendations and provide updates about offenders' progress and setbacks.

Correctional treatment specialists perform similar, but somewhat different duties. They're employed by parole and probation agencies and correctional facilities. At correctional facilities, correctional treatment specialists supervise and document progress made by inmates undergoing rehabilitation. They assess inmates by administering surveys and psychological exams. Additionally, with the assistance of other probation and parole specialists and legal authorities, correctional treatment specialists develop parole and release programs for soon to be released inmates. They write comprehensive case reports detailing offenders' histories and probability of recidivism. Case reports are submitted to parole boards when inmates are being considered for parole. Correctional treatment specialists also create, coordinate, and initiate specialized vocational training and educational programs intended to teach released inmates job skills and anger and stress management techniques. These reports also detail plans for placing released inmates into sexual and substance abuse counseling programs. These specialists typically prepare detailed and individualized treatment plans for clients. Correctional treatment specialists employed by probation or parole agencies have similar responsibilities as their colleagues employed at jails and prisons.

Correctional treatment specialists and probation officers typically manage 20 to 100 cases simultaneously. Individual caseloads are dependent upon agency needs and probability of client recidivism. Officers typically spend more time assisting, and allocate more resources for at-risk clients.

Pretrial services officers organize and perform pretrial investigations. Investigations are conducted to determine if individuals awaiting trial can be trusted to be released during the pretrial phase. Pretrial services officers supervise suspected criminals granted release prior to a trial. Pretrial services officers and probation officers have similar responsibilities in most legal jurisdictions.

Education and Training
Probation and parole officers typically hold bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, social work, or correctional counseling. Officers employed by federal government agencies are required to acquire 2 years of relevant work experience.

Legal jurisdictions require most probation officers and some correctional treatment specialists to complete formal training administered by state governments or the federal government. Once training is completed, these professionals must pass a certification exam. Probation officer and correctional treatment specialist trainees are usually evaluated during a probationary phase, which can last a year before being hired full-time.

Parole and probation specialists who excel at their jobs often receive promotions. Earning a graduate degree in psychology, social work, or criminal justice enhances career advancement opportunities.

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Skills and Qualifications
Most candidates are required to complete written, oral, psychological, and physical assessments. Correctional treatment specialist and probation officer candidates must be physically and emotionally fit. Most probation and parole agencies, courts, and correctional facilities require applicants to be 21 or older, but those applying for federal jobs must be 37 or younger. Convicted felons are usually not eligible to apply for these positions. Most organizations only consider applicants with valid driver's licenses.

Additionally, parole and probation specialists must be computer literate since they are frequently required to use computers when tracking client progress. Applicants should familiarize themselves with parole and probation laws and regulations. Correctional treatment specialists and probation officers must possess excellent writing skills since they frequently write reports. Officers must also have exceptional writing and communication skills to write reports, support their conclusions, and communicate with clients. All parole and probation specialists need to be empathetic and non-judgmental since they assist people with dysfunctional and criminal backgrounds. They must also manage stress properly.

Salary and Benefits
During 2008, median annual earnings for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $45,910. Those with earnings in the 50th percentile made anywhere from $35,990 - 60,430 annually. Specialists and officers with earnings in the bottom 10th percentile made $29,490 or less annually, while those with earnings in the upper 10th percent made $78,210 or more annually. In 2008, median annual earnings for specialists and officers working for state government agencies was $46,580. Municipal government employees made $46,420 a year. Those working in large cities typically earn higher annual salaries.

Working Conditions
Probation and parole officers usually work in court offices and correctional facilities. They frequently meet clients in their personal residencies and businesses. They typically work 40 hours every week but often work overtime to meet deadlines and conduct investigations.

Job Outlook
Job growth for parole and probation officers is expected to be average. More convicted criminals are meeting with parole and probation officers; however, the federal government has discontinued its parole system. Many governments can no longer hire new officers since many budgets have been drastically reduced. As a result, current officers are being assigned bigger case loads.

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