What is a Parole Officer?

Parole officers perform many responsibilities related to managing a felon’s parole by helping facilitate re-entry into society and monitoring parolee activities to ensure all terms of parole are being met.  Parole officer duties are typically categorized as pre-release, supervisory and rehabilitative.  In order to perform responsibilities in all of these categories successfully, parole officers are expected to have a well-developed and diverse education, professional training and experience.

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Most parole officers are employed corrections departments or judicial systems.  These agencies typically expect candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree and extensive professional experience in at least one of the following fields.

  • Law enforcement
  • Social work
  • Drug treatment
  • Counseling

Many employers grant preference to candidates with advanced degrees like a Master of Social Work or Juris Doctor.  Preference is also given to those with experience in clinical settings for drug dependency or psychological therapy.

Parole Officer Roles

 Pre-Release – Parole officers often interact with convicts while they are incarcerated.  This may take the form of interviews with prisoners to determine if they merit consideration for parole, which may include determinations about

  • Propensity for violence
  • Ability to transition to normal social environments
  • Susceptibility for drug or alcohol abuse
  • Willingness to obey the terms of parole
  • Ability to find and retain a job

Parole officers may question known prison associates, correctional officers, family, and other social contacts to help develop a greater understanding of the prisoner’s character.  Pre-release investigations may also involve reading legal documents from the trial, records pertaining to their incarceration, mental health assessments, criminal history, drug or alcohol dependency treatment history, as well as recommendations from key police, doctors or family.  Mitigating factors like good behavior and available employment opportunities upon release can help sway these parole decisions and must be verified by the parole officer.

Once these investigations are completed, the parole officer is expected to present the report to managers in the corrections department or directly to the parole board.  If parole is granted, the prisoner must sign a parole certificate, which outlines the terms of parole as well as the penalties for any violations.

Supervisory – As a supervisor for the parolee, the parole officer serves as a representative of  the correctional system.  The parole officer is charged with minimizing the risks to public safety through monitoring the parolee’s activities and taking active steps curtail harmful behavior like imposing a curfew, attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, or prohibiting contact with victims.

If a felon is granted parole, then the parole officer must perform a variety of duties in anticipation of their release.  In some jurisdictions parole officers may obtain residences at halfway houses or other community sponsored housing.  They may also play a critical role in lining up a job or source of income like Social Security.  Offenders who are required to receive chemical dependency treatment may need assistance finding local, affordable treatment programs.

Upon release, the parole officer meets with the parolee and discusses the terms of the parole.  The parolee must provide detailed answers to how they intend to comply with the parole terms.  The parole supervisor may also share methods involved in monitoring the parolee including electronic tracking, surprise visits to home or employment, and random drug testing.

If the parolee violates the terms of release, then local police are alerted and an arrest warrant is issued.  The offender may be returned to prison to complete the original prison sentence or they may be tried on additional charges if another crime was committed.

Rehabilitative – Parole officers also serve as representatives of the community, which has a strong interest in rehabilitating ex-convicts.  Offenders who can be productive members of society should be accorded the opportunity to take their place in the community.  In order to facilitate this, parole officers often coordinate community, social and government resources that may assist parolees.

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Drug and alcohol treatment are a priority for many felons who may have powerful addictions.  Enrolling them in residential or outpatient treatment programs along with robust family or social networks is often vital to rehabilitation.  This may entail frequent monitoring to ensure no relapses and extensive discussions with the treatment team to create a healthy environment for the parolee.  In some cases, counseling the parolee to refrain from contacting negative friends their past or moving away from a toxic family situation is essential.

Many parolees have considerable difficulty adjusting to life outside of prison and require psychological counseling.  Finding the most appropriate and effective therapist may require dialogue with the parolee.  If they endured trauma prior to imprisonment or during incarceration a counselor with experience in PTSD or sexual abuse may be required.

Employment is often critical to effective rehabilitation, but newly released convicts may not adjust readily to some work environments.  It is important to monitor the work situation and counsel parolees who are having difficulty.  In cases where another job is required parole officers must often alert corrections officials and facilitate the transfer.

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