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What Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists Do About this section

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists
Correctional treatment specialists counsel law offenders and create rehabilitation plans for them to follow when they are no longer in prison.

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists provide social services to assist in rehabilitation of law offenders in custody or on probation or parole.

Duties

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists typically do the following:

  • Interview with probationers and parolees, their friends, and their relatives in an office or at a residence to assess progress
  • Evaluate probationers and parolees to determine the best course of rehabilitation
  • Provide probationers and parolees with resources, such as job training
  • Test offenders for drugs and offer substance abuse counseling
  • Complete prehearing investigations and testify in court regarding offender’s backgrounds
  • Write reports and maintain case files on offenders

The following are examples of types of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists:

Probation officers, who are sometimes referred to as community supervision officers, supervise people who have been placed on probation instead of sent to prison. They work to ensure that the probationer is not a danger to the community and to help in their rehabilitation through frequent visits with the probationer. Probation officers write reports that detail each probationer’s treatment plan and their progress since being put on probation. Most work exclusively with either adults or juveniles.

Parole officers work with people who have been released from prison and are serving parole, helping them re-enter society. Parole officers monitor post-release parolees and provide them with information on various resources, such as substance abuse counseling or job training, to aid in their rehabilitation. By doing so, the officers try to change the parolee’s behavior and thus reduce the risk of that person committing another crime and having to return to prison.

Both probation and parole officers supervise probationers and parolees through personal contact with them and their families (also known as community supervision). Probation and parole officers require regularly scheduled contact with parolees and probationers by telephone or through office visits, and they also check on them at their homes or places of work. When making home visits, probation and parole officers take into account the safety of the neighborhood in which the probationers and parolees live and any mental health considerations that may be pertinent. Probation and parole officers also oversee drug testing and electronic monitoring of those under supervision. In some states, workers perform the duties of both probation and parole officers.

Pretrial services officers investigate a pretrial defendant’s background to determine if the defendant can be safely allowed back into the community before his or her trial date. Officers must assess the risk and make a recommendation to a judge, who decides on the appropriate sentencing (in settled cases with no trial) or bond amount. When pretrial defendants are allowed back into the community, pretrial officers supervise them to make sure that they stay within the terms of their release and appear at their trials.

Correctional treatment specialists, also known as case managers or correctional counselors, advise probationers and parolees and develop rehabilitation plans for them to follow. They may evaluate inmates using questionnaires and psychological tests. They also work with inmates, parole officers, and staff of other agencies to develop parole and release plans. For example, they may plan education and training programs to improve probationers’ job skills.

Correctional treatment specialists write case reports that cover the inmate’s history and the likelihood that he or she will commit another crime. When inmates are eligible for release, the case reports are given to the appropriate parole board. The specialist may help set up counseling for the parolees and their families, find substance abuse or mental health treatment options, aid in job placement, and find housing. Correctional treatment specialists also explain the terms and conditions of the prisoner’s release and keep detailed written accounts of each parolee’s progress.

The number of cases a probation officer or correctional treatment specialist handles at one time depends on the needs of individuals under supervision and the risks associated with each individual. Higher risk probationers usually command more of an officer’s time and resources. Caseload size also varies by agency.

Improved tests for drug screening and electronic devices to monitor clients help probation officers and correctional treatment specialists supervise and counsel probationers.

Work Environment About this section

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists
Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to more hours of work.

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists held about 91,800 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals 52%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 45
Social assistance 1

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with probationers and parolees. While supervising individuals, they may interact with others, such as family members and friends of their clients, who may be upset or difficult to work with. Workers may be assigned to fieldwork in high-crime areas or in institutions where there is a risk of violence.

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists may have court deadlines imposed by the statute of limitations. In addition, many officers travel to perform home and employment checks and property searches. Because of the hostile environments they may encounter, some may carry a firearm or pepper spray for protection.

All of these factors, in addition to the challenge some officers experience in dealing with probationers and parolees who violate the terms of their release, can contribute to a stressful work environment. Although the high stress levels can make the job difficult at times, this work can also be rewarding. Many officers and specialists receive personal satisfaction from counseling members of their community and helping them become productive citizens.

Work Schedules

Although many officers and specialists work full time, the demands of the job sometimes lead to working overtime and variable hours. For example, many agencies rotate an on-call officer position. When these workers are on-call, they must respond to any issues with probationers, parolees, or law enforcement 24 hours a day.

Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to more hours of work.

How to Become a Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist About this section

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists
Probation officers may go on to specialize in a certain type of casework, such as working with juvenile law offenders.

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists usually need a bachelor’s degree. In addition, most employers require candidates to pass competency exams, drug testing, and a criminal background check.

A valid driver’s license is often required, and most agencies require applicants to be at least 21 years old.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, behavioral sciences, or a related field is usually required. Requirements vary by jurisdiction.

Training

Most probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must complete a training program sponsored by their state government or the federal government, after which they may have to pass a certification test. In addition, they may be required to work as trainees for up to 1 year before being offered a permanent position.

Some probation officers and correctional treatment specialists specialize in a certain type of casework. For example, an officer may work only with domestic violence probationers or deal only with substance abuse cases. Some may work only cases involving juvenile offenders. Officers receive the appropriate specific training so that they are better prepared to help that type of probationer.

Other Experience

Although job requirements vary, work experience obtained by way of internships in courthouses or with probationers in the criminal justice field can be helpful for some positions.

Advancement

Advancement to supervisory positions is primarily based on experience and performance. A master’s degree in criminal justice, social work, or psychology may be required for advancement.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to effectively interact with probationers, probationers’ family members, lawyers, judges, treatment providers, and law enforcement.

Critical-thinking skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must be able to assess the needs of individual probationers before determining the best resources for helping them.

Decisionmaking skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists must consider the best rehabilitation plan for offenders.

Emotional stability. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists cope with hostile individuals or otherwise upsetting circumstances on the job.

Organizational skills. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists manage multiple cases at the same time.

Pay About this section

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Median annual wages, May 2020

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists

$55,690

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

$47,500

Total, all occupations

$41,950

 

The median annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $55,690 in May 2020. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,990, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,510.

In May 2020, the median annual wages for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals $59,690
State government, excluding education and hospitals 53,430
Social assistance 38,520

Although many officers and specialists work full time, the demands of the job sometimes lead to working overtime and variable hours. For example, many agencies rotate an on-call officer position. When these workers are on-call, they must respond to any issues with probationers or law enforcement 24 hours a day.

Extensive travel and paperwork can also contribute to more hours of work.

Job Outlook About this section

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

14%

Total, all occupations

4%

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists

4%

 

Employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment growth depends primarily on the amount of state and local government funding for corrections, especially the amount allocated to probation and parole systems.

Because community corrections is viewed as an economically viable alternative to incarceration in some cases, demand for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists should continue. Parole officers will continue to be needed to supervise individuals who will be released from prison in the future.

Job Prospects

Many job openings will result from the need to replace those who leave the occupation each year due to the heavy workloads and high job-related stress. Job opportunities should be plentiful for those who qualify. The ability to speak Spanish is also desirable in this occupation and may present better job prospects.

Employment projections data for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists

21-1092 91,800 95,300 4 3,400 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, visit

American Probation and Parole Association

Discover Corrections

For more information about criminal justice job opportunities in your area, contact the departments of corrections, criminal justice, or probation for individual states.

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Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

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