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Human Services and Criminal Justice Education Find out what degree you’ll need for a human services career as a probation officer, victim advocate, or prison social worker.

human services worker speaking with client

Police officers and detectives aren’t the only ones who make up the criminal justice system.

Human services workers play an integral role in preventing crime, supporting victims, and guiding offenders in a different direction. In this career, you’ll work with a very specific demographic: Prisoners, juvenile detainees, and victims of abuse and other crimes.

If you’re interested in helping others, a human services career offers that opportunity. You can work in the criminal justice system remedying issues within a population, and ideally, make a change.

Human services workers in criminal justice have a three-tiered objective to fulfill:

  • Evaluate a client’s or community’s needs
  • Develop a treatment plan
  • Put the plan into action

Pathways to Human Services Careers

Human services is a rigorous career that can offer great rewards but isn’t for everyone. Consider some of the personality traits needed to be successful.

  • Compassion
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Problem-solver
  • Patience
  • Organized with time management skills
  • Analytical
  • A people person
  • Responsible

Typical Careers and Education

Building a career in human services first starts with education. Earning a degree in social work, criminal justice, public administration, human services, or psychology from a traditional or online school should be your initial step. In many instances, you’ll also receive practical training so you’re prepared for situations you may encounter.

Probation Officer

Probation officers, also known as community supervision officers, typically need to hold a bachelor’s degree in the areas of social work, criminal justice, or a related field. Some employers prefer a master’s degree, however. Most probation officers go through government-sponsored training and must pass a certification test as well.

One of the main goals of a probation officer is to prevent new crimes from being committed. The role involves evaluating whether an offender—who is not in prison—is a risk to the community and developing rehabilitation plans. Offenders must check in with their probation officer, who then writes progress reports.

Victim Advocate

Because victim advocates encounter many types of issues on the job—crime prevention, legal rights, and safety planning to name a few—a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work or psychology is necessary, but a master’s degree is often preferred.

An average day for a victim advocate could include accompanying a victim to court, intervening with creditors or employers, or running support groups and crisis hotlines. In any of these capacities, a victim advocate needs to be confident in order to support a victim in a challenging, and often scary, situation.

Prison Social Worker

Rehabilitation and community safety is a prison social worker’s primary focus. In order to work with prisoners (or juvenile detainees), prison social workers should have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. However, master’s degrees in criminal justice, forensics, and social work are common and can better prepare you for the difficulties you’ll face, especially with repeat offenders.

In general, you’ll assess a prisoner’s situation, looking for things like addictions or mental health disorders, and address issues that led to imprisonment. Counseling services and skills necessary to re-enter society are also provided by a prison social worker.

In-Demand Careers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the projected employment growth for social workers is 7.4% through 2032, which is faster than all other occupations. As with any career, salaries in the field vary widely depending on factors including education, experience, location and more.

Victim advocate statistics are not compiled by BLS, but the employment growth for social workers can be used as a general guide.

Job growth for probation officers isn’t expected to change significantly.

A job in human services will test you regularly, but you’ll have the opportunity to improve lives and help work toward a greater good.