According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for probation officers was $47,200 in 2010. This figure can vary considerably based on geographical location, educational background, agency or department employer and seniority. Since minimum qualifications, promotion potential and average career longevity can also differ considerably between jurisdictions; salary expectations taken over the length of a career can be quite different from one jurisdiction to the next.
Educational Credentials and its Impact on Salary Expectations
It is important to recognize that some jurisdictions grant hiring preference to professionals who possess a master’s degree, while nationally, the minimum degree requirement is almost always a bachelor’s degree. Candidates with a Juris Doctor may experience significantly more lucrative salaries due to their extensive legal expertise, but degrees in Criminal justice, Social work, Psychology or related fields remain the most common.
Juvenile probation officers with degrees in developmental psychology or juvenile justice are likely to have useful skills that translate into greater professional success and higher salaries.
The table below shows the results of a national salary survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2011. The survey represents a sampling of probation officers from all states. The number of probation officers surveyed in each state was determined based on the total number of probation officers employed in a given state.
Probation Officer Salaries by State
How Professional Experience Contributes to a Higher Starting Salary
Judicial districts or departments of corrections manage the probation systems in most jurisdictions and probation officer jobs are usually awarded to professionals who possess some experience in the field of corrections. The rigors of this challenging profession are often too challenging for those completely unfamiliar with the penal system and the often aberrant behavior of criminals.
Salaries are usually better for professionals with prior experience in chemical dependency treatment, psychological care or law enforcement. Many of the skills developed in these fields transfer well to probation officer jobs and employers are likely to provide financial incentives to get experienced professionals to join their organization.
Professionals who have skills in counseling or social work are also likely to enjoy employment preference and increased salaries. Since these individuals have worked with patients in clinical settings, they are often well prepared for probation duties. Recognizing the signs of mental illness, drug use or suicidal thoughts can be critical to serving as a community supervisor. Familiarity with community resources like drug treatment facilities and psychotherapists is also highly valued by employers.
Other Factors that Influence Salary Expectations for Probation Officers
Geographical Location – As government positions, probation officer jobs are heavily dependent upon the affluence of the supporting government agency and the cost of living within an area. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest average salaries for probation officers were in California, New Jersey and Connecticut. These areas boast considerably higher average household incomes and the courts have adjusted their salary structure to attract qualified professionals who can better assure successful outcomes. Even within a state, the salaries for probation officers can depend upon the local environment; officers in metropolitan areas earn considerably more than those based in rural areas.
Government Agency – Unlike other law enforcement positions, there is not an ascending salary for local, state to federal probation officer jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most lucrative salaries for this profession are paid by municipal governments, which pay an average of $53,110 in annual salary, while state governments pay an average of $52,840. At the Federal level, the average salary for probation officers stands at $50,500.
Law Enforcement Authority – A key factor in determining the salary of a probation officer is their status as commissioned or non-commissioned peace officers. Commissioned officers possess similar authority to local or state police including arrest powers and the right to carry a firearm. The added costs involved in training a commissioned probation officer often incentivize employers to retain trained professionals by rewarding larger salaries.
Seniority – The most important factor in determining the salary of a probation officer is often their length of time on the job. While this is similar to most occupations, this is particularly important in a high stress position like this. Not only are probation officers integral members of the courts, but they must also learn to act independently when supervising probationers.
The learned competencies in investigation, social work, and judicial collaboration are usually acquired through on-the-job experience. Probation officers who have served for lengthy times on the job may ascend through the hierarchy and take more prominent positions including probation manager and agency director. While the exact salary increase depends upon the department, there is usually a substantial increase with each significant promotion. The skills that experienced probation managers possess are also usually shared with new hires through on-the-job training, workshops, and training courses.