Preparing to serve in the challenging field of probation and parole supervision can be a long and involved process. Most jurisdictions usually require candidates possess at least a bachelor’s degree and more than a few mandate or grant preference to candidates that have a master’s degree or higher.
It is also important to choose a degree field that will provide a competitive advantage during the hiring process; the strongest majors for this profession are usually ones in
- Social work
- Developmental psychology
- Law enforcement studies
In addition to a robust educational background, probation officers are also expected to possess strong physical attributes. Candidates with superior strength, stamina, dexterity and flexibility have a greater chance of obtaining a probation officer job and completing the requisite training program.
Basic Training for Probation Officers
Once hired, most jurisdictions require probation officers to engage in professional training, often at a state police academy. In most states, probation officers must meet certain physical and professional standards before they are permitted to serve. These standards are usually developed by a state agency or licensing board that then directs the training agencies throughout the state to tailor their curriculums accordingly. These standards reflect the recommendations of probation officers who have served communities across the country.
Arrest Procedures – All states emphasize personal defense skills, which may involve use of firearms, situational awareness, negotiation strategies and tactical drug searches. Instruction in personal protection involves courses in:
- Arrest procedures
- Controls, Defensive Techniques, Restraints
- Weapons Retention and Disarming Methods
Lethal Weapons – While many states authorize probation officers to carry and use firearms, there is often a special set of courses that are devoted entirely to the proper use of lethal weapons. Many states provide this instruction through training at state certified police academies. Those states which commission probation officers to act as peace officers typically require completion of the entire basic police training program.
Law – The legal aspects of probation activities can be quite challenging for those without an extensive knowledge of the law or the judicial system. While probation officers rarely prepare documents that have the necessary heft to be admitted to legal proceedings, they do have considerable influence over certain judicial decisions and must understand the parlance and concepts essential to the profession. Legal instruction is a large component of training programs and may include courses in
- Probation law
- Parole law
- Introduction to the legal system
- Searches and seizures
- Constitutional law
Report Writing – Some of the most essential responsibilities of probation officers involve reporting duties. It is important to possess a variety of administrative skills like report writing and data entry. Monitoring offenders must be corroborated by clear, detailed reports ensuring that they are abiding by the terms of the probation. Most probation officers are expected to handle from up to as many as 50 cases at a time, so time management and organization are skills that will be covered in most training systems.
Caseload Management – The final sphere of instruction that most probation officers go through covers caseload management. Probation officers can have great influence upon the activities of their clients and most probation districts stress that helping probationers regain a productive place in the community should be a priority for its officers.
In order to facilitate this, training programs usually include introductions to basic psychology, communication skills, and resourcing treatment options. Some of the following courses may be provided:
- Offender behavior analysis
- Crisis intervention
- Drug counseling
- Interpersonal communication
- Community resource management
Following the completion of the basic training program, most states require that students pass a comprehensive written, oral or practical exam. After graduation, new hires are usually closely supervised by an experienced officer during their first months or years.
Probation officers who wish to specialize in juvenile supervision may be required to receive additional training. The issues involved in juvenile probation usually require knowledge of developmental psychology, drug intervention, or family counseling. Because the offenders may remain under the care of their parents, the situational dynamics may be more complex than adult probation supervision. Some states require that juvenile probation officers obtain a specific license to serve in this field.
Probation procedures must be periodically reviewed and updated to reflect new monitoring and supervising techniques, as well as changes in laws. In order to disseminate these skills and knowledge, most states require probation officers to periodically receive advanced training through their department or external educational portals. In some jurisdictions, this may require completion of recertification classes.
Probation officers who are seeking a promotion to a manager job may also wish to complete additional training that may involve broader instruction in developmental psychology, parole supervision, executive leadership and organizational management.