Learn About Being a Probation Officer

Updated February 3, 2023

What does a probation officer do?

A probation officer works with law offenders who are serving community-based sentences to ensure they satisfy judges’ requirements during their probationary periods. These members of the criminal justice system visit individuals on probation, supervise their activities and create reports on their progress. Common probation officer duties include:

  • Meeting with probationers at home, school, work, court or other settings to discuss progress during probation

  • Scheduling job interviews, training sessions, counseling appointments and substance abuse treatment programs for probationers as required

  • Filing reports on probationers’ progress and compliance with the court

  • Meeting with employers, family members, judges, lawyers, community leaders and other interested parties to discuss probationers’ progress

  • Suggesting amendments to probation requirements, when appropriate

Typical salary

Most probation officers work full-time salaried positions. In many situations, they’re on call 24 hours a day and may receive overtime pay. Probation officers who work in larger metropolitan areas may earn a higher salary than those based in smaller cities. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $48,260 per year

  • Typical salaries range from $14,000 to $108,000 per year.

Probation officer requirements

A bachelor’s degree will help you secure your first role as a probation officer. Pursing further qualifications and developing a skill set will help you advance in your career.


Most probation officers start their careers after earning a bachelor’s degree in criminology or a related field, such as criminal justice, psychology or social work. In some circumstances, government departments and agencies will employ new probation officers who don’t hold a degree but have relevant work experience, including corrections, social work, criminal investigations and counseling. Earning a master’s degree in a related field can help probation officers gain employment without work experience and advance in this career path.


Newly hired probation officers attend a training academy before commencing work in the field. This training teaches new hires skills and procedures they will use on the job, including report writing, self-defense techniques, use of firearms and investigation techniques. On completing this training, probationary officers begin working in the field where they learn additional skills from more experienced coworkers and managers. They may also attend seminars and conferences to keep up to date with industry regulations. 


Most states require probation officers to hold a valid driver’s license and be at least 21 years old. You must also pass psychological, physical, written and oral tests that assess if you can mentally and physically perform necessary duties. You must have certification of your citizenship or legal U.S. residency and a clean criminal record. 

Some states, cities and districts also require probation officers to pass a civil service examination. These examinations vary according to the region, but typically test applicants’ ability to:

  • Follow written directions: In this section, applicants must apply a set of rules to determine the best solution or outcome.

  • Solve problems: This section asks applicants to draw logical conclusions from the facts presented.

  • Comprehend text: Applicants will need to answer questions based on a passage of text.

  • Write clearly: Applicants must demonstrate their ability to convey information clearly in an open-ended section.

  • Analyze details: This section asks applicants to analyze information and decide whether it contains useful information about people or events.

  • Show attention to detail: Often a two-part section, this tests an applicant’s ability to accurately compare information from reports to a written summary. Applicants also compare coded information to a list and determine whether any items match.

  • Show preferred attitudes to the job: In this section, applicants will answer questions to determine their temperament for working as a probationary officer. For example, it will show whether they would work conscientiously, work well with others, handle pressure and act with integrity.

  • Show probation knowledge: This section tests knowledge of key workplace areas, including interviewing, psychology and case management.


Probation officers use a variety of skills to succeed in their professional lives. Government departments and agencies look for the following skills in their probation officers:

  • Written and verbal communication: You will use your communication skills to interview those on probation; arrange employment, housing and other resources; and report criminals’ progress to invested parties.

  • Critical thinking: Your critical-thinking skills will help you assess each probationer’s situation and determine the best actions and resources to help them during their probation period.

  • Organization: Good organization skills help manage several cases at once and prioritize which tasks need the most attention.

  • Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence allows you to understand the words and actions of those you’re working with and respond accordingly. 

Probation officer work environment

Probation officers usually work for federal, state, and local government corrections and justice departments. They spend most of their time working with those serving community-based sentences and liaising with other relevant parties, including their relatives, members of the legal system and community services. They spend a good portion of time out in the field in correctional institutions as well as probationers’ homes, schools and workplaces.

The work of probation officers is often fast-paced and challenging. Probation officers work full-time hours. Overtime hours are typical, especially when probation officers are traveling and completing paperwork near deadlines. On-call probation officers must be ready to respond to case issues 24 hours a day.

How to become a probation officer

Obtain these prerequisites to become a probation officer:

1. Bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Most probation officers hold a bachelor’s degree in criminology, criminal justice, psychology or social work. These courses teach aspiring probation officers how individuals think, how their choices shape society and how the criminal justice system works.

2. Two years of work experience.

Work experience in a related area, such as law enforcement, probation or case management, can give you an advantage. Roles in these fields show applicants are mentally and physically capable of working in the criminal justice system.

3. Satisfy legal requirements.

Probation officers must pass criminal background checks and mental and physical competency exams. Probation officers serve as examples to probationers, so they must have excellent character and standing in their community.

4. Master’s degree.

An advanced degree in criminal justice, criminology, social work or psychology can provide an advantage and help you secure federal government positions. These courses focus on leadership training with courses in policy analysis, cost-benefit analysis for the legal system and juvenile detention center management.

Probation officer job description example

The Department of Corrections is hiring probation officers to take over case management duties for offenders serving community-based services. Successful candidates will oversee the cases of probationers to ensure they meet the terms of their probation and become productive members of their communities. The right candidates will be compassionate but logical decision-makers who can provide personalized guidance to the probationers under their care. They must immediately report non-compliant probationers and comply with all conditions of probationary release.

Related careers

  • Social worker: If you are interested in working as a probation officer because you want to help others, you may make a good social worker. Social workers help people manage the problems they face in their daily lives.

  • Police officer: If you are interested in working as a probation officer because you care about your community, you may enjoy working as a police officer. Police officers work to keep communities and their residents safe.

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