Learn About Probation Officer Careers

Read about the job of probation officer, including education, certification and probation officer salary.

The Basics

What you'll do: Both parole and probation officers supervise offenders, either those placed on probation (people who serve their sentences outside of prison) or parolees (people who are released from prison to serve the remainder of their sentences among the general public—with certain restrictions).

Degree you'll need: Bachelor's degree

Certification: Some states require that parole and probation officers take certification tests during or after the completion of training. You'll you'll need to be a U.S. citizen over 20 years old, not be a convicted felon, and pass several competitive written, oral, psychological and physical exams.

Median annual salary: $48,190*

Job Description

reformed prisoner outdoors symbolizing probation officer career

In the U.S., there are probation officer careers at the city, county, state or federal level. Depending on the jurisdiction, probation officers may or may not also be parole officers. Although they don't wear uniforms, probation officers are usually issued a badge and may carry concealed weapons and pepper spray for protection.

Serving as the link to a variety of social services, probation and parole officers perform the following duties:

  • They help their clients find the education, counseling, jobs and housing necessary to become fully rehabilitated
  • They strive to keep offenders drug- and alcohol-free, and prevent them from recommitting crimes
  • They write reports to provide judges with important information to pronounce an appropriate sentence for each offender
  • Testify at pretrial and parole board hearings to help explain their reports
  • Responsible for investigating any violations of court-ordered sentences

To get a probation officer job, you’ll need excellent oral and written communication skills, and a broad knowledge of the criminal justice system. You’ll gain these skills in all accredited criminal justice degree programs. Officers must also be able to work with an extremely diverse population and wide variety of government agencies and community organizations, and accept the potential hazards of working closely with a criminal population.

Probation Officer Salaries in Cities Across the U.S.

CityAnnual Mean Salary*
Houston, TX $41,120
Atlanta, GA $36,350
Baltimore, MD $52,080
Denver, CO $52,450
Phoenix, AZ $53,540
Washington, DC $54,300
Chicago, IL $68,590
Philadelphia, PA $52,560
Portland, OR $59,760

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics Database, 2014.

Probation Officer Education

To become a probation officer, you'll need a 4-year bachelor's degree in criminal justice, social work, psychology or a related area. Many parole and probation officers have a master's degree in criminal justice. In addition to their training, federal officers must also have at least two years of work experience.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15; Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.