Probation Officer Job Description: What You’ll Do

Here’s What You’ll Do in a Career in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Earning a degree in criminal justice opens up a variety of law enforcement career opportunities. Potential job titles include police officer, corrections officer, or probation officer. Qualifications to work in criminal justice vary by job title and state. Students should research their state's requirements prior to enrolling in a degree program. This page provides details on the educational requirements, traits, and common job responsibilities of a probation officer.

What Are the Duties and Responsibilities
of a Probation Officer?

Probation officers serve a broad and complex role in the criminal justice system. The probation officer job description includes providing pretrial and probation services. Examples of pretrial services include conducting additional investigation to determine a suspect’s education, mental and physical health, chemical dependencies, finances, and relationships with friends or family. Officers use this information to create bail reports and make recommendations for drug testing, mental health treatment, and electronic monitoring.

The primary responsibilities of a probation officer involve detailing a suspect's state of mind and odds of reoffending to aid the court in making a sound and fair verdict.

The primary responsibilities of a probation officer involve detailing a suspect's state of mind and odds of reoffending to aid the court in making a sound and fair verdict. Probation services include detailing a suspect's supervision requirements according to a judge's ruling and, in some cases, setting up rehabilitation or mental health services. While most departments hire separate parole officers, probation officers may also serve in this role, which requires frequent monitoring of suspects after release.

Probation Officer Education Requirements

There are a variety of criminal justice and law enforcement degrees available. Determining which degree to pursue depends on a student's goals. A criminal justice degree focuses on the application of laws to a crime to determine a just punishment. A law enforcement degree focuses on crime scene investigation and the process of apprehending criminals. To work as a probation officer it may be better to earn a criminal justice degree, as a probation officer's responsibilities involve working between the court system and suspect to ensure punishments are lawfully enacted. They are not typically involved in the apprehension of suspects or determining guilt.

Probation officers typically work for the state or federal government. The exact requirements vary by state or job title.

Working as a probation officer typically requires a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or social work at minimum. Other common bachelor's degrees include psychology, criminology, or sociology. Some federal positions require two years of industry experience in addition to a degree. Students may consider internship opportunities in social work or counseling to gain valuable career-related experience. Career advancement in this field typically requires a master's degree, and students should consider earning a transfer-friendly bachelor's degree if they plan to pursue further education.

Probation officers typically work for the state or federal government. The exact requirements vary by state or job title. Students should determine their career goals and carefully research their state's requirements to ensure they earn the right degree for their career goals.

Associate Degrees

Students earning an associate degree in criminal justice qualify for entry-level positions in law enforcement. Core curriculum in most associate degree programs introduces key topics including the judicial process, juvenile justice, correctional systems, and an introduction to the field of criminal justice. Graduates typically pursue jobs as police officers, correctional officers, border patrol agents, or security officers.

The average associate degree requires 60 credits and takes two years to complete. Tuition costs vary significantly by school, typically from $10,000-$30,000 per year. Factors affecting tuition rates include state residency requirements, and whether a school is public or private. Students should carefully research programs to ensure they invest in a degree that will help them achieve their career goals. Visit criminaljustice.com for more details on earning an associate degree in criminal justice.

Bachelor's Degrees

Earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or law enforcement typically takes four years. Tuitions costs vary widely by school. In-state students pay an average of $10,000-$15,000 per year at a public university, compared to $35,000 per year at a private university. Out-of-state students should expect to pay about $10,000 a year more than in-state students. Many online programs, however, offer a flat tuition rate for distance learners.

A bachelor's degree is typically required to work as a probation officer. While it is common for students to earn an associate degree to enter the field of law enforcement, a bachelor's is necessary for career advancement. Common courses in a bachelor’s program include law and criminal procedure, criminal justice administration and leadership, criminal justice ethics, and the american legal system. Coursework prepares students to work as probation officers, legal assistants, police officers, detectives, or private investigators. Visit criminaljustice.com for more information on the benefits of earning an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

Other Requirements for Probation Officers

In addition to a bachelor's degree, becoming a probation officer may involve non-academic requirements. Specific requirements may vary by state. Students should verify their state's requirements before enrolling in a program to ensure they earn the degree necessary to achieve their career goals.

Applicants must be younger than 37 years old, possess U.S. citizenship, successfully clear a drug test, and pass a thorough background test.

A common requirement is attending a department's police academy. Academy training teaches essential police skills including firearms safety, investigation skills, and a variety of physical fitness training exercises. Other non-academic requirements may include previous industry-related work experience, and a written, physical, and psychological examination. Applicants must be younger than 37 years old, possess U.S. citizenship, successfully clear a drug test, and pass a thorough background test.

Qualities That Make a Great Probation Officer

In addition to meeting educational and non-academic requirements, successful probation officers possess several key qualities. Probation officer job duties include working with court officials, suspects, and lawyers so strong communication, writing, administrative, and interpersonal skills are necessary. Officers must be patient, act with integrity, and possess strong critical-thinking skills to successfully manage suspects moving through the court system. Below is a list of the top 10 traits for probation officers.

  • Communication skills
  • Writing skills
  • Integrity
  • Administrative skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Critical-thinking skills
  • Emotional stability
  • Decision-making skills
  • Patience
  • Organizational skills

Salary and Employment Opportunities for Probation Officers

Highest-Paying States for Probation Officers
State Mean Annual Salary Employment
California $89,240 13,560
Rhode Island $83,060 200
New Jersey $73,810 2,790
New York $70,690 4,770
Iowa $70,360 740
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018
Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Probation Officers
Metropolitan Area Mean Annual Salary Employment
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA $85,470 5,210
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA $74,580 3,850
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD $57,780 2,090
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI $69,990 1,910
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ $57,590 1,470
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018

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