Probation Officers usually have a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice or a related field. A graduate degree is helpful for advancement.
Like many people trained in social work, Probation Officers have the desire to help people. However, because your clients are people who are in custody, or on probation, for breaking the law, you may need to be assertive with them. Sometimes a firm hand is needed to help them connect to a brighter future.
Probation Officers supervise offenders who have been placed on probation instead of being sent to prison. They may investigate the background of offenders brought to court, write pre-sentencing reports, and make sentencing recommendations.
A related position is Parole Officer—instead of supervising people on probation, a parole officer maintains contact with convicts when they are released from prison. Once out, the offenders are required to stay in contact with their parole officer. It’s a way of helping them avoid the situations that got them into trouble, in the first place.
In some states the duties of probation and parole officers are combined.
These are very high stress jobs, working in dangerous situations with potentially dangerous individuals. Caseloads are heavy, with deadlines imposed by the courts. You may be on-call 24-hours a day. Probation Officers may be called upon to testify in court, or work with other jurisdictions where their clients face charges. Clearly, these are jobs that require strength of character and excellent communication skills, along with an ability to understand another person’s problems—even when that other person’s actions are difficult to understand.