Parole officers supervise the activities of felons who have been released from prison but who must continue to abide by certain restrictions as stipulated by a parole board. The terms of parole may include a curfew, community service, restricted social activity or immediate employment.
Parole officers provide a variety of investigative and supervisory functions that are designed to facilitate compliance with the terms of parole as well as re-entry into normal society.
The demands of this challenging profession have inspired corrections departments that employ parole officers to implement high standards for new recruits. The path for those interested in learning how to become a parole officer will often involve a college education, well-developed professional experience and a diverse skill set that may take years to acquire.
Preparing to Become a Parole Officer: Education and Experience
Education – The vast majority of jurisdictions require that applicants interested in learning how to become a parole officer have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some may permit well qualified individuals to serve in their department with only an associate’s degree, while many, including the federal prison system, prefer professionals with a master’s degree. The most common majors among parole officers are:
- Human Services
- Social Work
- Criminal justice
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, 86% of parole officers have a bachelor’s degree, 7% hold a master’s degree, while the remaining 7% have some college credit, but no formal degree.
Professional Experience – Many employers expect applicants to have three to five years of work experience in a related field. The skills acquired from work in a detention facility, chemical dependency rehabilitation center, or mental health clinic are highly beneficial during the hiring process and contribute to greater success on the job. The ability to correctly and quickly recognize aberrant behavior, violent impulses, or drug use can prove to be of critical importance while performing parole duties.
A parole officer may encounter situations where physical strength and dexterity are a benefit, so prospective POs may consider a physical conditioning regimen that improves overall strength, dexterity and flexibility.
Most parole agencies will ask candidates to successfully pass a physical fitness test that will assess these attributes and determine if they are capable of completing a parole officer training program.
Parole Officer Certification
Some states will only hire applicants who have submitted to a certification process through the state’s Department of Justice Criminal Justice Standards Division. Certification of this nature is designed to ensure applicants meet all qualification standards related to their knowledge and education, the findings from their criminal background screenings, as well as the results of their physical and phychological evaluations.
In some states, this certification process involves a state-sponsored course and examination. Most exams include multiple choice and essay questions that will test the student’s knowledge of
- Situational decision making
- Parole officer protocols
- Case work procedures
- Written communication
Applying to Become a Parole Officer
The majority of parole officer jobs are found through state departments of corrections. There are a limited number of federal parole officer jobs, but they are declining due to the abolition of the federal parole system. Many state agencies will accept an application even if no formal job announcement has been made.
A completed application should be submitted along with relevant documents including:
- College transcripts
- Employer recommendations
- Military service records
- Law enforcement documents
Most organizations require that parole officers meet the same professional standards of police or corrections officers. These qualifications include:
- No criminal convictions
- Citizen of United States
- Ability to pass a drug test
- 21 years or older
- No large financial debts
- Moral character
In order to verify that a candidate is qualified most agencies require an intensive background check and drug testing. Medical and psychological evaluations are also administered to ensure that the applicant can properly fulfill their responsibilities if hired.
Parole Officer Training
Parole officers in many states are authorized to carry and use firearms, so they often must complete training programs similar to those of other law enforcement officers. Many jurisdictions will integrate parole officer training with local or state police basic training. Others may provide an abbreviated training schedule, where trainees will attend a training academy specifically for parole officers. In most jurisdictions this includes instruction in:
- Parole law
- New case processing
- Offender relations
- Interpersonal communications
- Parole violations
- Case management
- Personal protection
- Drug investigations
Once a new hire has completed the training academy, they are usually supervised by a senior parole officer for up to a year before attaining the status of a full parole officer.
New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York State Office of Probation and Correctional Alternatives – Training, (accessed May 6, 2013); available from http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/opca/training.htm
North Carolina Department of Justice/Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards, Correctional and Probation/Parole Officer Certification, (accessed May 6, 2013); available from http://www.ncdoj.gov/About-DOJ/Law-Enforcement-Training-and-Standards/Criminal-Justice-Education-and-Training-Standards/Officer-Certification-Programs/Correctional-and-Probation-Parole-Officer-Certif.aspx
ONET OnLine, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, (accessed May 6, 2013); available from http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1092.00