Helping past offenders turn around their lives can be challenging but rewarding work. Learn how to become a probation officer and find out if this career is a good fit for you.

If you're sympathetic to people in difficult situations but also know how to be assertive when needed, then becoming a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist may be for you. These officers play an integral role in the criminal justice system and help ensure offenders don't commit crimes again. Probation officers may also be called community supervision officers.

What Does a Probation Officer Do?

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work in the field of law enforcement to monitor offenders and prevent them from committing new crimes. As part of the job, they may do the following:

  • Complete pretrial reports that detail a defendant's background
  • Interview probationers and parolees as well as their friends and family
  • Connect probationers and parolees with resources, such as transportation and job training
  • Conduct drug testing and provide substance abuse counseling to offenders
  • Maintain case files on probationers and parolees

How Long Does it Take to Become a Probation Officer?

You'll need to spend four years in school to earn a bachelor's degree before you can become a probation officer. Then, some government agencies require workers to spend one year as a trainee before they are hired to a permanent position.

How to Become a Probation Officer

Becoming a probation officer is a relatively straightforward process that usually includes the following steps.

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree: A four-year degree is the standard education requirement in the field. Job candidates typically major in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences or a related field.
  2. Complete a drug screening and background check: As part of the application process, employers usually require a drug test and background check.
  3. Become certified: Each government agency may have its own certification process for new probation officers, which may include a training program and competency exam.
  4. Continue your education: Taking professional development courses is one way for probation officers to keep their skills sharp. Some officers also return to school to earn a master's degree, which can open the door for more advanced work positions.

Essential Skills and Qualities for Probation Officers

A good probation officer knows how to treat individuals with respect while still being able to hold people accountable, and probation officer careers may be best for those with the following skills and abilities.

  • Social perceptiveness: It is essential that probation officers understand how and why people react in certain ways.
  • Persuasion: If someone appears to be on a destructive path, being persuasive can help a probation officer turn that person around.
  • Service orientation: Helping others is at the core of a probation officer's work so having a heart for service is essential.
  • Problem sensitivity: A good probation officer can anticipate when things might go wrong and how to proactively address the situation.
  • Speech clarity: Probation officers must be able to speak plainly and clearly when communicating with probationers and parolees.

Probation Officer Salary and Job Outlook

If you're interested in learning how to become a probation officer, it's also good to know what your job prospects may be prior to starting on that career path. The national probation officer job growth, salary and employment figures below all come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists88,120$59,9103.3%
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Where Can You Work as a Probation Officer?

Probation officers are employed almost exclusively by the government, with employment largely split between state and local governments, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, employment opportunities can depend on where you live. States with the largest populations, for example, are likely to employ the largest number of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists.

Professional Associations for Probation Officers

For more information about probation officer careers, visit the websites for these professional associations.

American Probation and Parole Association

Federal Probation and Pretrial Officers Association

National Association of Probation Executives

Article Sources
Article Sources
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed May 2020,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Accessed May 2020,
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, O*Net Online, Accessed May 2020,

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