Probation officer: it sounds like an exciting job. But what exactly do
probation officers do? Is it like you see on TV crime shows? Or is it a desk
job? Well, it's a bit of both.
Probation officers supervise people who are on probation after committing
a crime. Being on probation means a court order has imposed a sentence on
the offender. The sentence is served in the community, rather than in jail.
Probation officers write reports explaining whether or not the person they
are supervising is following the terms of their probation.
For example, someone who repeatedly returns rental cars days late may not
be allowed to rent cars as one of their probation terms. If a probation officer
finds out that the offender rented a car, the officer would need to write
a report explaining what happened.
The field is paperwork-driven. Probation officers have heavy workloads
and lots of deadlines. A lot of writing is also involved.
Probation officers also spend a lot of time out "in the field." This could
include checking up on clients to see whether they're home when they're supposed
As a result, the work can be dangerous. If you're checking up on a violent
offender, an element of risk is involved. Because of this, probation officers
sometimes carry weapons.
It's a misconception that most probation officers are men. There is just
as much opportunity for women in this field, says Brent Merchant. He's the
assistant deputy minister of a corrections branch.
Steven Bordin agrees that the probation field is great for anyone, male
or female, if they're interested in it. He's the chief probation officer of
the county of Butte in California.
"Probation is a great field for anyone motivated," he says. "If you apply
yourself, you can move as high in this profession as you choose."
People often confuse probation officers with parole officers. Parole officers
supervise people who have been released from prison. Probation officers deal
with people who have been court ordered to serve their sentence in the community,
and/or have been released from court on conditions. (Conditions may include
bail or community service work.)
Essentially, if a parole board creates an order, a parole officer supervises
the offender. If a court issues an order, a probation officer supervises the
Probation officers typically work for their local court system. Parole
officers typically work for a state or provincial corrections system.
Both probation officers and parole officers are called correctional officers
because they both supervise people who are in the corrections system at some
As part of the job, probation officers deal with intervention,
enforcement and even behavior modification. They also develop case management
plans for the clients they're supervising, and update the plans as needed.
To be a probation officer, you must enjoy working with people. The job
may involve working with other organizations to get the services your clients
need, so strong communication skills are also essential.