Federal Probation Officer Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a federal probation officer? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a federal probation officer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Probation Officer Career

Federal probation officers monitor recent offenders and determine corrective treatment. If you think you'd like to be a probation officer, continue reading to learn more about this career.

Pros of Being a Probation Officer
Higher than average mean wage ($53,000 in 2014)*
Provide security by keeping track of individuals who have violated the law*
Advancement options open to experienced and educated workers*

Cons of Being a Probation Officer
May work in potentially harmful environments*
Work under strict court-imposed deadlines*
May be on-call and work irregular hours*
May have to conduct stressful field work*
Negative growth in the field (-1% from 2012-2022)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

In all fields, probation officers supervise and meet with adult or juvenile offenders after they have committed a crime. They evaluate the offender's progress and arrange treatment programs. As a federal probation officer, you meet with the family and friends of offenders to gain more information, as well as write reports on the progress of offenders to ensure rehabilitation. You may work in institutional environments, or you may be assigned to fieldwork in order to conduct employment checks and property searches. Probation officers depend on technological advancements, such as electronic monitoring devices.

Job Growth and Salary Info

Though the wages for federal probation officers are unavailable, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in May 2014 the mean annual salary for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was about $53,000 in all industries. Most probation officers work full-time, and some may have to work extended hours. Between 2012 and 2022, job growth is expected to fall by 1%. The projected decrease is expected to stem from low state and local government funding, so federal jobs may not be affected.

Education and Training Requirements

There are no universal educational requirements for probation officers. However, most hold bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, psychology or social work. Some employers may require a master's degree in a related field, especially for candidates who do not have previous work experience in this field. Most agencies require that probation officers be at least 21 years of age, and the federal government requires that they are not older than 37, stated the BLS. Across all fields, probation officers must have the following skills, accomplishments and capacities:

  • The ability to work with offenders and offer them options for treatment
  • A commitment to upholding the law and keeping people safe
  • The ability to perform fieldwork and work irregular hours
  • A high capacity for stress and the ability to speak with distressed individuals
  • The ability to think critically about multiple cases and remain organized
  • Skill in writing detailed reports

Training Requirements

Probation officers may also be required to complete a special training program that is sponsored by their federal or state government. After completing these programs, you may have to pass a certification test. In addition to earning certification, you may have to work as a trainee for up to one year before you are offered a permanent position. The federal government requires officers to complete training orientation and firearms instruction through the Federal Probation and Pretrial Services Training Academy.

Job Postings from Real Employers

State and federal government agencies seek probation officers with bachelor's degrees and relevant work experience. In general, employers require candidates to have clean backgrounds, as well as the ability to work with clients and make recommendations to the courts. Employers also expect workers in this field to be skilled in keeping detailed records of clients. In order to get a better sense of the kinds of positions available, see the following job postings that were open during April 2012:

  • The federal government was hiring probation officers in Massachusetts for supervision units. Job requirements included a 4-year degree in a relevant field, such as criminal justice, criminology, sociology, psychology or human relations. This job also required at least one year of experience in a related field, such as probation, pretrial services, corrections, parole or criminal investigations.
  • The government was seeking a probation officer in Indiana. This job requires candidates to hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited program or be in the final semester of a bachelor's degree program. After six months of employment, workers were expected to take and pass a special examination. Candidates were also expected to be at least 21 years of age and be of good moral character.
  • A government organization in New York was seeking a probation officer to investigate and supervise convicted offenders and criminal defendants. Job duties included preparing reports, presenting recommendations to the courts and promoting community safety. Candidates were required to have a bachelor's degree in a relevant field of study and at least three years of experience.

How to Stand out in the Field

Employers may favor candidates with experience in related fields of work; these fields include pretrial services, parole, corrections, criminal investigations, counseling, social work or substance abuse treatment. While most workers in this field have bachelor's degrees, you may be able to advance to senior positions by earning a graduate degree in social work, criminal justice or psychology. Through a combination of having a graduate degree and gaining valuable types of work experience, you can stand out among the competition and may qualify for more jobs. Additionally, some applicants call for you to be physically capable so you may want to maintain good physical condition.

Alternative Career Paths

Clinical Social Worker

If you are interested in meeting with clients and helping them through various problems, but would rather not work with offenders, you can become a clinical social worker. In this career, you identify and treat behavioral, mental and emotional problems. You provide therapy for individuals, groups, couples and families and help them through difficult emotional situations. You help clients with resources and refer them to other mental health professionals.

Social workers must have a master's degree and be licensed in every state. Employment is expected to grow by 25% between 2010 and 2020; this is faster than average among all occupations. Employment in this field varies, but in 2011, the BLS stated social workers, all other, earned mean wages of $54,000.

Substance Abuse Counselor

If you want to help people through their problems in a non-legal context, then you may want to become a substance abuse counselor. Substance abuse counselors advise individuals who have various types of addictions, such as alcoholism. They help clients modify their behavior in order to overcome their addictions and teach them strategies that support long-term success. They may work with clients individually or in groups and may refer clients to other services, such as support groups.

Educational requirements vary widely in accordance with the types of job duties that are being performed; requirements range from a high school education to a master's degree. In general, workers with more education are qualified to provide more services. Substance abuse counselors who work in private practices must be licensed. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for substance abuse counselors in 2011 was just over $41,000. Job growth is expected to increase by 27% between 2010 and 2020, faster than average among all occupations.

Popular Schools

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    1. Purdue University Global

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      • Master: Criminal Justice
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    3. Grand Canyon University

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      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
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    4. Colorado Christian University

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Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BS in Corrections
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • M.A. in Law - Alternative Dispute Resolution
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Criminal Justice, B.S.
  • Criminal Justice, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Federal Law Enforcement
  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Utica College

  • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
  • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation
  • BS in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation - Financial Investigation

What is your highest level of education completed?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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