If you’re thinking about careers, whether it’s to make a choice that helps you pick GCSE, A-Level or University courses, or because you’re considering a change to something more fulfilling, then the criminal justice system is rarely at the forefront of your mind. It’s widely perceived as under-resourced, as oppressive, both to the people working within it and to the people who go through it, whether they are imprisoned or released.
The truth is, of course, more complex, and more rewarding. Today we’re putting Probation Officers under the spotlight: who are they, what do they do and how can you become one?
The Job Itself
Probation Officer jobs are as much like work as a social worker as they work within the justice system. The job of a Probation Officer starts before a prisoner is recommended for Probation. They assess the prisoner’s case, and make recommendations to the judge based on how they think the person in question would respond.
If they make the recommendation and the judge follows it in sentencing, the Probation Officer will work with the prisoner to build a stable life, away from the risk factors that got them involved with crime in the first place.
It’s not about hand holding, and simply giving a criminal everything they want. If you can help someone build a life with a job where they’re valued, a home to live and interests outside it, they have something to care about, and something they don’t want to lose. It’s an incentive to help them keep themselves away from crime.
As well as connecting them with employers and helping to builder a structure, Probation Officers might also refer clients to mental health services and addiction treatment. Issues like this can blossom into crime when untreated so while addressing them isn’t directly the Probation Officer’s job, ensuring they are addressed can help them to get a more constructive outcome for the people they are working with.
As well as constructing a healthy routine, the Probation Officer also has to ensure the person fulfils the specific terms of their probation. This might be to engage in community service, to avoid certain areas or behaviours (pubs and public drunkenness, for example) – breaking these conditions can result in arrest and incarceration.
You need specialised qualifications to become a probation officer – not unlike a social worker. You need a degree or equivalent qualification including modules covering criminal justice before you can apply, though more flexible options combining on the job training with study do exist!