Certification and Education Needed to Be a Probation Officer

Female probation officer meeting and helping with an offender

Criminal justice degree programs are ideal for mid-career professionals in the fields of social work, psychology, sociology, family services, and children’s services. Because professionals in these fields typically have some exposure to the criminal justice system, completing an online criminal justice degree is a great way to gain additional knowledge that can be used on the job. This type of degree can help a person qualify for advancement or to transition to a different field. One of the careers made possible by a criminal justice degree is probation officer.

Educational Requirements
The educational requirements for probation officers vary by state, but most states require at least a bachelor’s in criminal justice. Some states also require aspiring probation officers to complete certification programs sponsored by the federal or state government. In addition to completing these basic requirements, potential probation officers should also have good computer skills, knowledge of state and federal laws, strong writing skills, excellent interpersonal skills, and good listening skills. Employers may require probation officers to have experience in parole, corrections, probation, substance abuse treatment, criminal investigations, counseling, or social work. Coursework in these areas can give some candidates an edge over others who have not completed similar coursework.

Specialized probation officer education programs typically include coursework in juvenile processes, adult criminal justice systems, probation terminology, information gathering, case law, statutes, fines and restitution, interviewing and counseling, gang affiliation indicators, and court reports and presentations. These courses help new probation officers develop the knowledge and skills they need for success.

A specialized type of probation officer works specifically with juvenile offenders. In this role, the juvenile probation officer supervises youth offenders and participates in criminal investigations involving juvenile offenders. There is no specific degree for juvenile probation officers, but a degree in criminal justice or criminology can provide adequate preparation for this career. These degree programs include coursework in law enforcement principles, punishment and corrections, criminology, criminal procedure, juvenile delinquency, social deviance, criminal justice ethics, and the judicial system.

Completing a master’s degree in criminal justice prepares experienced probation officers for management positions within the probation and parole field. These programs cover budget planning, organizational administration, professional ethics, and theories of crime prevention. Someone who completes this type of degree may qualify for employment as a probation supervisor or the director of a probation services department. These positions usually require less hands-on work with offenders and more administrative work in a probation office.

Due to the nature of the job, probation officers must complete several examinations prior to employment. Potential officers go through extensive psychological and physical examinations to ensure that they are fit for duty. They also complete oral and written examinations designed to assess their knowledge. The Probation Officer Exam is a specific examination that assesses the knowledge and skills of potential officers. This examination covers probation officer case scenarios, reading comprehension, probation officer situational awareness, investigative problems, grammar and punctuation, preparing and interpreting written material, probation theories and concepts, law, working with charts and graphs, and establishing relationships with probationers.

Skills and Specialized Training
Probation officers need specialized skills and knowledge. Some of this knowledge is obtained during criminal justice school, but other knowledge and skills require additional training or preparation. Required skills include social perceptiveness, active listening, complex problem solving, coordination, judgment and decision making, and speaking. A probation officer must also have knowledge of law and government, public safety, psychology, security, customer service, counseling, sociology, and anthropology. Successful probation officers also have good clerical skills and the ability to use basic computer programs to perform their duties.

Probation officers also have several required abilities to do their jobs successfully. These abilities include oral comprehension, speech recognition, speech clarity, written expression, written comprehension, inductive reasoning, oral expression, problem sensitivity, and good near vision. These abilities make it possible to perform the basic work activities of a probation officer. These activities include recording information, making decisions, communicating with others, evaluating information, organizing and planning work, and maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Work Environment
The work environment of a probation officer differs based on job duties, but most officers do a combination of office and field work. Their offices are typically climate-controlled and well-lit. Field work presents more of a challenge, as a probation officer may have to walk or run in hot or cold weather, rain, snow, and other inclement weather conditions. This job requires officers to make quick decisions, deal with angry or unpleasant people, and document their activities.
These resources offer more information about the career of a probation officer.

•    U.S. Probation Officer Requirements: This resource explains the physical requirements, required education, and specialized experience requirements for federal probation officers.
•    Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: This resource from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics details the job duties of a probation officer and explains the education and training requirements for this job.
•    Florida Certification Requirements: Florida is one of the states that offer certification for correctional probation officers. This resource describes the requirements for obtaining this certification.
•    Job Description: This job description details the knowledge, skills, abilities, education, experience, and training required by Oklahoma probation officers. These requirements are similar to those for probation officers in other states.
•    Texas Probation Training Academy Resource Library: The Correctional Management Institute of Texas offers a free resource library for current and aspiring probation officers.
•    Community Justice Resources: Probation officers play an important role in community justice.
•    Oregon’s Department of Community Corrections: Learn more about community corrections within the State of Oregon.
•    Washington State Department of Corrections: The State of Washington offers different programs to individuals incarcerated or supervised by the DOC. These programs are also built to help the families of those affected.