Probation Officer Careers in Criminology

One of the most common careers in criminology is probation officer. This term also covers parole officers, too. Although the occupations have some differences, they have so many similarities that, for simplicity, they are usually considered together under the probation officer classification. Parole officers supervise men and women who have been incarcerated and must serve out the rest of their terms on parole, while probation officers supervise men and women who have been given probation instead of incarceration. With that main difference in mind, for the rest of this article, probation officer will be referring to both occupations.

The basic role of the probation officer is to make sure their clients keep themselves out of trouble, that is, to further interactions with law enforcement agencies. They will counsel their clients to get and keep a job, find new pastimes and associates, stay away from drugs and (in most cases) alcohol, and try to rebuild a life that's more stable and productive.

In most cases, clients will come to the probation officer's office on a regular basis to check in, update their progress, and sometimes be tested for drugs. If a client doesn't show up, the probation department has to track him or her down. In most cases, there are dedicated agents who perform this task. Some officers will advise courts on whether a convicted criminal is a good fit for probation or should go to prison. When clients fail to live up to their probation requirements, officers notify the court.

Educational standards for employment as a probation officer vary. Most governmental agencies require a bachelor's degree, while some are satisfied with an associate's degree. In order to move into higher-level jobs, a bachelor's or master's will usually be required. Probation officers will also require thick skins, as many of their clients are less than friendly. They must have good native intelligence, empathy, ingenuity, and a well-developed sense for knowing when they're being lied to. While not nearly as dangerous as being a police officer, the job does have some risks, so physical fitness is also a necessity.

Salaries for probation officers are above average. On the lowest end of the scale, new officers make a little over $30,000, and on the high end of the scale, top pay is currently almost $80,000. The median salary is around $48,000 per year. Pay depends on education, location, experience, and seniority.

Job growth for probation officers is expected to be above average in the coming years, as budget constraints lead to less money being spent on new prisons.

Last Updated: 06/03/2014

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