Similarities Between Parole and Probation Officers

Parole officers and probation officers play critical roles in the criminal justice system. While there are some differences in their roles, both groups help individuals who have been convicted of crimes get their lives in order. These government employees supervise convicted criminals for a specified period of time. While under supervision, parolees and those on probation must comply with the terms of their parole or probation. Parole and probation officers hold them accountable for this.

Working with Convicted Criminals

Probation & Magistrate Court direction sign Uxbridge West London UK
Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Both parole and probation officers work with convicted criminals; however, individuals on parole and those on probation differ in one critical way. Parolees have gone to prison and have been released to live in the community at large while under the supervision of a parole officer. Those on probation have avoided jail or prison time as punishment for their crimes and are instead sentenced to probation.

Either way, officers work with individuals who have violated criminal law. Those under supervision have either been found guilty or pled guilty to a criminal offense.

Case Management

Parole and probation officers carry a caseload of individuals under their supervision. Even though a parolee or someone serving probation has just one officer, parole and probation officers have many offenders under their supervision.

It can be a balancing act making sure each offender on an officer’s caseload gets the attention he or she needs. With experience comes professional intuition. This intuition helps officers know which offenders need an inordinate amount of attention and which ones require only the minimum level of attention.

Service Planning and Coordination

Before a parolee is released or after a judge hands down a probation sentence, parole and probation officers work with other criminal justice professionals to develop plans for offenders to follow to maximize the likelihood they will not return to the criminal justice system. Some elements of the plans are standardized for each state or federal board granting parole or criminal court sentencing probation. Other major requirements are set out in sentencing orders.

An example of a condition for all parolees could be a requirement to meet face-to-face with a parole officer at least once per month. An element customized to an offender could be a requirement to attend inpatient drug treatment for someone convicted of driving under the influence of narcotics. Again, these are just examples.

While the tenets of an offender’s plan may be lined out by a higher authority than the parole or probation officer, the details are often left to the officer’s professional judgment. An offender may be required to attend an inpatient drug treatment program, but the officer guides the offender to the particular one that will best meet his or her needs.

Officers connect offenders to services and hold the offenders accountable for taking full advantage of those services.

Necessary Skills

There are several skills parole and probation officers need to be successful. First, they must be good communicators. Within the realm of communication, parole and probation officers interpret rules and orders, convey complex information to offenders, write reports to parole boards and judges, answer questions about offenders’ progress, and interview family members and others who routinely interact with offenders.

They must be effective decision makers. In some cases, they decide what is best for the offender, and other times they help offenders make decisions for themselves. Whether making the decision or advising the decision-making process, parole and probation officers must think through the potential consequences of multiple options to choose the best one. Strong critical thinking skills help officers make the right decisions.

With typically large caseloads, parole and probation officers must have good organizational skills. Appropriate prioritization is critical to getting the right things done first.