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Probation Officer  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dotProbation 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 to be.

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 offender.

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 point.

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.

At a Glance

Supervise people who are on probation

  • Expect heavy workloads and lots of deadlines
  • Typically, a bachelor's degree is required for work in this field
  • Criminal justice, social work and psychology are acceptable programs of study