Pros and Cons of a Career as a Youth Parole Officer
Youth parole officers are law enforcement professionals who are responsible for helping recently released juvenile offenders transition smoothly from prison into wider society. Learn more about the pros and cons of a career as a youth parole officer to make an informed decision about your future.
|Pros of a Career as a Youth Parole Officer|
|Emotional satisfaction (you may experience tremendous satisfaction knowing that you are providing an essential service to the public)*|
|Minimal education requirements (a bachelor's degree and certification are typically all that's required)*|
|Government sponsored on-the-job training is usually offered*|
|There could be opportunities to advance to supervisory and/or administrative positions**|
|Cons of a Career as a Youth Parole Officer|
|Long, erratic hours (parole officers often work on-call, which requires them to be available 24 hours a day)*|
|High stress (you may be required to deal with people in many tense environments and situations)*|
|Heavy workloads (parole officers typically deal with many deadlines and a large volume of cases)*|
|Hazardous work environment (you may need to travel to relatively dangerous environments to visit clients)*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **State of Michigan.
Job Description and Duties
As a youth parole officer, you'll serve as advocate and intermediary for juvenile ex-offenders, ensuring that they follow all of the conditions of their parole. You may guide parolees to various resources, such as job training or substance abuse counseling, in an effort to alter their behavior and reduce the risk of recidivism. Part of your job also involves communicating and cooperating with a variety of interested parties, such as parents, school officials and welfare administrators. Parole officers must also visit their clients on a regular basis, prepare pre-parole reports for board hearings and carry out investigations if former offenders are suspected of having violated the conditions of their parole.
Job Prospects and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies parole officers into the broader category of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. The organization predicted that employment of these professionals would decrease by 1% from 2012-2022. Some employment need is still anticipated however, due to the trend of using alternative forms of punishment, such as probation, instead of long prison sentences, as well as the eventual release of individuals who are currently in prison. As of May 2014, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a median annual wage of about $49,000.
Career Paths and Specializations
Virtually all parole officers work for local and state governments. There are typically several opportunities for advancement, the structure of which may vary depending on the agency. Regardless of agency, however, your likelihood of advancement is primarily based on your education level, experience and job performance. Some officers may elect to specialize in working with certain types of cases, such as domestic violence and substance abuse. Officers might also be required to perform the duties of both parole officers and probation officers.
What Are the Requirements?
Although the particular requirements for entry into this profession vary by state, juvenile parole officers are typically required to hold at least a bachelor's degree in law enforcement, social work or a related field. Students in these academic programs are trained in a variety of areas, such as criminology, social work practice, sociology and criminal justice.
In addition to formal education, prospective officers may also be required to accumulate supervised, on-the-job experience. Upon completion of this training, some states require that candidates pass a certification test and obtain state certification. Some states may also require newly hired parole officers to undergo a period of basic training. Apart from training and education, applicants must also pass written and physical examinations, psychological tests, drug tests and criminal background checks. Candidates are typically required to be at least 21 years old.
You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include the ability to:
- Effectively communicate to a diverse array of individuals
- Think critically and creatively to determine the best resources with which to provide ex-offenders
- Interpret information and translate that interpretation into clear and concise written language to create reports
- Organize a large number of cases in a way that is coherent and fosters efficiency
- Conduct cost-benefit analysis to facilitate effective decision-making in former offenders
Job Postings from Real Employers
A May 2012 job search found several openings for juvenile parole officers across the country. Virtually all employers required applicants to hold at least a high school diploma, though more specific educational and experience requirements varied by employer. Certification or training could also be required. The following three job postings found during this search can provide an idea of the qualifications employers seek:
- A juvenile agency in Wyoming advertised for a juvenile probation and parole officer with knowledge of the juvenile court system and department procedures, as well as family dynamics, child psychology and human behavior. The employer preferred candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field.
- A government agency in New Mexico advertised for a probation parole officer with an associate's degree or equivalent experience who has completed the Corrections Basic Probation and Parole Officers Certification Training and who is trained in self-defense. Additionally, the successful applicant must complete defensive tactics and restraint courses, first aid training and CPR training within a year of hire.
- A government agency in West Virginia looked for a probation and parole officer with at least a bachelor's degree in business administration, criminal justice, political science or a related field. Additionally, ongoing firearm training requirements must be met through the West Virginia Corrections Academy.
How to Stand Out
A way to stand out as a juvenile parole officer is by acquiring additional training through certificate courses and certification programs. By joining a professional association, such as the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA), you can gain access to continuing education resources, networking opportunities and career development courses. You could also consider enrolling in the APPA's specialized certification programs, which may provide you with knowledge in a variety of areas, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and sexual offender management.
Earn a Graduate Degree
According to the BLS, a graduate degree can be beneficial or even required to advance into a supervisory role. Preferred degrees are offered in areas such as criminal justice, psychology, sociology or social work. These 2-year programs are offered by a variety of higher educational institutions. It's often be possible to enroll in a flexible degree program that allows you to keep your current parole officer job, while you take classes during nights and weekends or online.
Other Careers to Consider
If you're interested in working with individuals awaiting trial or convicted of crimes but would rather work in a correctional facility on a predetermined schedule, a career as a correctional officer could be a better fit. Individuals who are interested in impacting society by providing social services and assistance to broad segments of the population in a fast growing career field might prefer careers as social workers.
Correctional officers, similar to youth parole officers, typically work with individuals who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to terms in reformatory, jail or prison. Unlike parole officers, however, correctional officers are confined to work within institutions, like as jails and federal prisons, and have different responsibilities, such as supervising inmate activities, assisting with inmate counseling, conducting contraband searches and filing conduct reports. According to the BLS, job growth for correctional officers and jailers was predicted to increase five percent from 2010-2020. These professionals earned a median annual salary of around $39,000, as of May 2011.
Social workers are similar to juvenile parole officers, in that they act as intermediaries and advocates for individuals who need government assistance. As with juvenile parole officers, social workers may decide to work exclusively with young people. These professionals have many responsibilities that are similar to those of juvenile parole officers, such as making regular visits with clients and communicating with their families.
Unlike parole officers, however, social workers don't focus solely on rehabilitation and/or behavioral correction; rather, their emphasis is on the much broader life experience of clients. The BLS predicted that jobs for social workers would increase 25% from 2010-2020, which is faster than average. As of 2011, these professionals earned a median annual salary of around $54,000.