The role of the probation officer involves ensuring that probationers do not violate the terms of their probation which may involve strict curfews, lifestyle changes, drug treatment attendance, or travel restriction. The other aspect of their job is to help rehabilitate offenders so that they refrain from anti-social behavior that can harm themselves or others.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
To be qualified to perform these different functions, probation officers are expected to obtain post-secondary education, professional training, and additional certification.
Basic Degree Requirements and Vital Skills
In virtually every municipal, county or state jurisdiction, probation officers require at least a bachelor’s degree to begin their career. The most popular majors among professionals in this field are:
- Social work
- Criminal justice
Because probation officers must be able to perform a variety of duties in several capacities including law enforcement, judicial review and consultation, and chemical dependency remediation, they should seek a diverse curriculum while they are in school. Among the skills that probation officers should expect to obtain in school are:
- Information systems operations
- Oral and written communications
- State and federal law
- Constitutional law
- Clinical treatment for mental illness or drug dependency
- Juvenile psychology
While the vast majority of probationers are not likely to present a threat to the persons of their supervising officers, some offenders do commit irrational and sometimes violent acts that can harm themselves or others. In order to limit the risk of this occurring, probation officers are expected to be physically capable. Some post-secondary schools offering relevant programs related to law enforcement help students develop relevant physical skills related to self-defense. Participation in ROTC, intramural sports, or physical education courses is also useful to this end.
Advanced Degrees for Probation Officers
While the minimum degree requirement for most probation officer jobs is a bachelor’s degree, the demands of this challenging profession have contributed to some agencies and probation districts raising their minimum qualification to a master’s degree. The primary reason for this is that many employers would like professionals with more life and career experience.
The most common advanced degree for this profession is a master’s degree. Typically this degree requires specialized coursework over a two-year period, but in some cases this can be abbreviated to one year. Most professionals seek additional studies in the field in which they studied during their undergraduate education, but others also find it is helpful to diversify their knowledge by obtaining a graduate degree in another, closely related field. For example, criminal justice undergrads may opt for a specialized graduate program that incorporates more elements of criminal psychology.
There are also specialized master’s degrees that have great pertinence to probation work. The Master of Social Work (MSW) includes classroom and clinical instruction in counseling, sociology, and public policy that will translate well into a probation officer career.
The Master of Business Administration also provides valuable management skills that allow probation officers to better manage their hectic careers, as well as prepare for a position in probation system leadership.
Post-Academic Professional Training
In 39 states, probation officers are commissioned to act as peace officers with the authority to carry firearms and make arrests. In these states, probation officers must complete extended training, which may be conducted at local police academies, or may include certain courses that law enforcement academies provide. These courses may include:
- Law enforcement communication
- Firearms training
- Personal defense
- Weapons retention and disarming
- Controls and restraints
The physical requirements to enter these programs may be quite high, so prospective probation officers should engage in a rigorous physical conditioning program that includes
- Sit ups
- Push ups
- Distance running
- Obstacle courses
There are a number of facilities that can provide adequate preparation, but one of the most reliable is the training facility itself. In many states, law enforcement academies allow non-recruits to enroll in a training regimen that is modeled on the basic training curriculum. These courses will provide valuable insights and help condition candidates for the actual training.
Most states require that probation officers possess adequate competencies and use a comprehensive exam to determine this. In states with formal certification processes, there are a number of educational portals like local colleges, private schools and government agency sponsored courses that may assist in preparing for these exams. One of the most common exams is the Probation Officer Exam, which includes questions on
- Personal identification documents
- Case histories
- Court reports
- Probation terms