Most people will tell you they're interested in criminology and criminal justice careers because they want to "make a difference" and "help other people." In our industry, some of the people who are most in need of that help are those who have already been arrested and convicted of crimes. These people can find themselves in precarious positions. They often have difficulty finding work and staying out of trouble.
For people who are on probation, parole or other forms of community control, one misstep can send them to back to jail or prison for a long time. That's why the job of a probation, parole or community control officer is so important, and why so many people are interested in these rewarding careers. Once you've settled on the career you want, though, the question then becomes how exactly can you become a probation or parole officer?
Minimum Requirements for Probation, Parole, and Community Control Officers
Before you think about filling out the job application, you'll want to first be sure that you meet the minimum qualifications. Keep in mind that these are the bare minimums you'll need just to get employers to consider you. If you don't have these qualifications, you'll have no chance of getting hired. If you do have them, you'll still have a long road ahead in the hiring process.
The following minimum requirements are listed as a general reference to give you an idea of where you'll stand. Typically, to be considered for a position as a probation, parole or community control officer you'll need to:
- Be a United States Citizen
- Be at least 21 years old
- Not have been convicted of any felony or major misdemeanor crimes
- Have a high school diploma or its equivalent
Understand that probation and community control jobs are found at all levels of government: local, state and federal. Individual agencies may have additional specific requirements they expect their candidates to meet.
Skills and Credentials Needed for Success
In addition to the minimum requirements above, most criminal justice agencies will require you to hold at least a four-year degree. For the best chance of success, choose your major carefully. Either a bachelor's degree in criminology or a criminal justice degree will meet the requirement. Other degree programs that will help give you an edge and provide helpful insight in your future probation career are psychology and social work.
You'll be expected to be familiar with standard office programs such as Word and Excel or similar applications, and you'll also need general computer skills.
Perhaps most important to the job of a probation, parole or community control officer is communications skills. If hired, you'll be expected to produce plenty of reports that will need to be well written and coherent.
You'll also have to deal with lots of different kinds of people who have been previously convicted of crimes, and you'll have to help counsel and guide them toward a successful second chance.
Some agencies may require you to attend the academy before you get hired, while others may sponsor you or send you to the academy upon hiring. Check with the individual agency you're applying to for specific requirements regarding training and certifications.
Past experience in a relevant field will help your chances of getting hired. In some cases, such as in federal probation careers, prior work experience is required. You can get the experience you need through volunteering, internships or finding work in similar fields, such a social work, before applying.
If you meet the minimum qualifications and have the skills, experience, and credentials employers are looking for, you'll most likely be invited to the testing phase. Tests may vary by agency, but will likely include a written basic abilities test as well as an oral interview. There may also be an assessment of your writing ability, as well. If you think you're lacking in any of these areas, you may want to shore up your skills and prepare before testing.
Physical Fitness Requirements
Probation, parole and community control officers may at times have to interact and deal with potentially dangerous people and may have to exert themselves physically. For this reason, some agencies may require you to pass a physical abilities test. This may consist of a fitness test to measure your ability to run and perform pushups and sit-ups, or more likely it will involve an obstacle course that simulates some of the physical tasks you may have to perform.
If you successfully complete the testing phases, you'll move into the background investigation. During the background check, an investigator will look at your credit history and your previous employers. She'll also probably check with your references, neighbors, and associates to determine your character.
You probably won't have to take a polygraph or psychological exam, but you can expect to be asked about past drug use or other past behaviors that could compromise your ability to perform the job.
During the background investigation process, it's important to always be open and honest. If the investigator suspects you're not be being forthcoming, that your hiding something or that you're outright lying, you can bet you won't get hired.
Most agencies that employ probation, community control and parole officers require their job candidates to undergo some form of medical testing to make sure they can handle the stress of the job. This will likely consist of a standard physical exam, a blood pressure check, and an EKG. You can also expect to have your hearing and eyesight checked, as well.
The medical exam is used to identify any potential health issues that could prevent you from being able to do your job, and its purpose is to protect your potential employer from liability and to prevent you from being injured or killed.
Probation, Parole, and Community Control Academy
Successful completion of the hiring process will usually get you sent to the academy if you haven't already been trained. Different states and governments have different requirements as far as the length of the academy and the exact type of training you'll undergo.
In general, you can expect the academy to take 20 weeks or longer and to include coursework on laws and procedures related to probation and community control, human issues, human diversity, and interpersonal communications.
Academy work can be grueling, and you can expect to be bombarded with information and tests. You'll need to pass every test, typically with a score of 80 or better, in order to complete your training. At the end of the academy, you'll likely have to take and pass a state certification exam in order to be able to work.
Becoming a Probation, Parole, or Community Control Officer
Once you're hired and certified, you'll probably enter into a period of field training, during which time you'll be placed with an experienced officer who can teach you the ins and outs of the job. Upon successful completion of your field training, you'll be put to work, probably in a probationary status of up to a year, and evaluated regularly to make sure you're comprehending the job.
Working as a probation, parole or community control officer can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely frustrating. If you get hired in the field, you'll need to maintain a positive attitude and an appreciation for how important your job truly is.
This is certainly not a job for everyone, but for those who have the patience and strength of will do meet the daily challenges these careers present. It's a tough job, but it you think you have what it takes, then you may very well find that working as a probation, parole or community control officer is the perfect criminology career for you.