Probation Officer Career

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As an alternative to incarceration in county, state or federal penitentiary, probation may be implemented to place restrictions on an offender’s rights and freedoms as a means of punishment.  Probation is an option only available to non-violent offenders.

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In 2010, almost 4.9 million offenders were under probation across the United States.  The vast majority of these probationers were under the supervision of local and state authorities as the federal judiciary eliminated probation in 1984.  Of this large population of offenders in the probation system, almost 95 percent completed their probation without violations.

The terms of probation often include:

  • Curfews
  • Community service
  • Residential restrictions
  • Barred from firearms possession
  • Limited access to alcohol
  • Travel restrictions
  • Prohibitions of contact with victims

Probation Officer Job Description by Category

Within the probation officer profession are two primary categories:  Adult and Juvenile.  These two divisions are closely linked in responsibilities, but juvenile probation officer jobs may require additional educational preparation and training for supervision of teens and pre-teens.  While there is a considerably larger population of adults who are eligible for probation, there is a greater likelihood of a penalty of probation for juvenile offenders.

Adult Probation Officer Job Description:

Within the judicial system, probation officers often serve as intermediaries between judges and offenders who have been sentenced to probation.  In order to ensure that the judge’s directions concerning probation are fulfilled, probation officers employ a variety of techniques including GPS monitoring, house arrest, monitoring software, informal supervision, and random drug testing.

Within the U.S. almost 39 states grant limited or full law enforcement authority to probation officers.  This authority enable probation officers to carry a firearm, use lethal force and make arrests.  In these states, probation officers are required to complete basic police academy training, which is usually quite demanding, both physically and cognitively.  More states are empowering probation officers because of a growing awareness of the high-risk situations that some probationers present.  It is also not uncommon for commissioned probation officers to also supervise parolees.

Probation officer jobs may be found in a variety of probation settings. Some judges may deliver sentenced offenders into the hands of probation officers immediately after a trial’s completion.  In other cases, judges may employ “shock probation,” which involves a short stay in jail that is intended to instill compliance with the terms of the probation.

In recent years, probation officer jobs have come to include the role of counselor and social worker.  In this role, probation officers assist their clients in finding productive social activities like employment or school. They are also active in recommending appropriate therapies for mental health issues, traumatic incident resolution, and chemical dependency.   Although their primary responsibility is to ensure that the offender does not engage in illegal or prohibited behavior, probation officers often take larger roles in optimizing the wellness of their charges, allowing them to more easily re-integrate into society.

Probation officer jobs involve being tasked with monitoring offender activities. If probationers violate the terms of probation their supervising officer usually alerts the presiding judge or the police.  This results in consultation with the judge to determine punitive measures, which may include new terms or a period of incarceration.

Juvenile Probation Officer Job Description:

Due to sensitive nature of young persons and their developing minds, many juvenile courts impose probation rather than detention.  This is the preferred penalty for young offenders as it provides positive and healthy influences in their lives.  Juvenile probation officers often act as community representatives who attempt to correct the characters of juvenile offenders before they habituate socially unacceptable behavior.  In 2010, almost 58 percent of juvenile cases resulted in probation.

In the U.S. almost 18,000 juvenile probation officers are employed by government agencies. While many of these officers have training in law enforcement related fields, many more obtain their college degrees in juvenile psychology and social work.  Juvenile probation officers usually are responsible for recommending cases for judicial adjudication, screening for probation, and supervision of probationers. Juvenile probation officers are therefore quite integral at many stages of juvenile judicial process.

Juvenile probation officers may handle between 2 and 50 cases, and these responsibilities are related to population density as well as government resources.  Making a significant impact on the lives of numerous probationers can be extremely stressful and taxing on juvenile probation officers, so a strong commitment to the ideals of the profession is essential to career longevity.  The most successful juvenile probation officers also retain their belief that young offenders can improve their behavior and enjoy productive lives.

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