A probation officer is a law enforcement officer who works closely with both the courts and the individuals who have been charged with committing a crime. He or she works exclusively with either juveniles or adults, and may work on the national or regional level. A probation officer's work is likely to involve investigating offenders, working with the community, testifying in court, and interacting regularly with convicted criminals.
Part of a probation officer's job is to interrogate recently charged offenders to determine their motives and whether they are likely to commit additional crimes. During this process, the officer is required to thoroughly investigate the offender's background and interview the offender's family, friends, and work associates to gain a better understanding of the offender's history, personality, and behaviors. The probation officer uses this information to make a pre-sentence assessment that will help the court determine whether the offender should serve prison time or probation.
This career path involves enormous responsibilities. Probation officers must protect the public from offenders, but when possible, they must suggest rehabilitation for offenders instead of prison. The decisions probation officers face are often difficult and can have negative consequences.
In addition to law enforcement skills, a probation officer should also possess excellent administrative skills. He or she must work with offenders who do not go to prison, but require supervision. This task includes keeping meticulous records, and often includes scheduling drug tests, mental health assessments, counseling appointments, and rehabilitation services. A probation officer may also aid the offender in acquiring housing, employment, job training, and social services.
Frequent meetings with offenders are necessary to make sure payments to the courts are paid, appointments are kept, and community service obligations are honored. A probation officer is also responsible for electronic monitoring if the court orders house arrest or specific curfews for certain offenders. He or she must see that offenders who refuse to obey all court orders are arrested.
A probation officer is often required to work with the community to prevent crime, so good public relations skills are helpful. Additionally, a probation officer may have large caseloads, work long hours, and be obligated to testify in court hearings on a regular basis. Due to the nature of this career, probation officers are usually expected to stay in excellent physical shape and are often required to carry a fire arm; concealed handgun license certification courses may be necessary.
A bachelor's degree in criminology, sociology, or psychology is typically required for this profession. Some departments may also require additional education, corrections training, or experience in one of the social science fields. While this is often considered a hazardous and emotionally taxing career, it can also be considered a very rewarding one. A probation officer plays a significant role in the offenders life and his or her rehabilitation.