Focused on helping ex-offenders become productive citizens, a probation officer oversees compliance with release conditions and provides appropriate interventions when needed. Strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail and an understanding of policies and procedures related to the criminal justice system is critical. You’ll need an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, social work or a related field as a minimum qualification. Some states require a graduate degree.
To be considered for a job as a probation officer, it will take a minimum of four years in college and as much as six years if you pursue both an undergraduate and graduate degree.
Consider the Minimum Parole Officer Requirements
Before jumping into a college degree to prepare for this position, consider the basic qualifications. Parole officer requirements extend beyond a college education. Other common standards include:
- Certificate of health from a physician
- Certificate of mental and emotional suitability from a clinical psychologist
- Clean criminal record
- Successful completion of a drug screening test
- U.S. citizenship
- Undergraduate degree
- Graduate degree (optional)
Earn an Undergraduate Degree
A college degree will help you remain competitive in the job market. Most states require a minimum of an undergraduate degree. It is best to pursue criminal justice, law enforcement, psychology or social work to gain the most knowledge and skills for this job.
Classes like crime and delinquency, American constitutional law, police process and sociological imagination provide a solid background to work as a probation officer. If possible, seek an internship that will give you practical experience in the field.
Get Practical Experience
While you’re in college, get involved in your community or seek a part-time job to help bolster your resume and help you develop the necessary skills for being a probation officer. Most colleges have academic student organizations like the corrections club, psychology club or law enforcement student association.
You may also be able to get a part-time job in safety and security on your campus. Volunteering to work with inmates is a great way to increase your personal insight and awareness of working with potential probationers. You may find opportunities to volunteer or work in a halfway house, social services office or rehabilitation center.
Pursue a Master’s Degree
Some states list a graduate degree as a minimum qualification to work as a probation officer. Working with special populations like juveniles, offenders with severe disabilities or sex offenders may also require you to have completed graduate education.
Even if the minimum requirement is a bachelor’s degree, advanced education will help you move up the ladder. After you’ve gained significant work experience, you may apply for a senior probation officer position. This administrative position supervises other probation officers and serves in an administrative role for the unit.
Complete Additional Training
Once you’ve met the minimum requirements and are offered a position, you can expect to spend up to 12 months in a rigorous employer-provided training program. You’ll learn about policies, procedures, CPR and first aid, investigation and surveillance, monitoring probation, serving warrants and writing reports. While you’re going through this training, you’ll be in a probationary position. Expect to pass a written test prior to being offered a permanent position.
Look at the Parole Officer Salary
A parole officer salary varies based upon location. In 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the average annual salary for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $51,410. The range of reported salaries for this position was $33,920 to $90,880. Job opportunities are expected to grow by 6 percent between 2016 and 2026.
- Illinois Department of Corrections: Parole
- Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota: Criminal Justice and Corrections Major
- CorrectionalOfficer.org: Probation Officer
- North Carolina Department of Justice: Correctional & Probation/Parole Officer Certification
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.