Probation counselors or probation officers are often confused with parole officers, but there is a major difference in these careers. Rather than supervise convicted offenders after they are released from incarceration and prior to serving their full sentence, probation counselors supervise defendants who have not yet been sentenced or who are sentenced to probation instead of prison. Part of that job means counseling the defendant to assist with rehabilitation.
Instead of being sent straight to prison, many of those convicted of a crime are placed on probation. During this period, offenders need to stay out of trouble and meet a variety of other requirements such as regular counseling sessions. Probation counselors and other correctional treatment specialists work with these offenders on probation so that they keep from committing crimes. Counselors monitor the progress of these offenders and create rehabilitation plans for them to follow.
A bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, psychology or a related field is usually required. Some employers require a master’s degree in criminal justice, social work, psychology or a related field for candidates who do not have previous related experience.
In a typical day, the job duties of probation counselors may include:
Because probation counselors work with criminal offenders, the job can often get stressful and occasionally dangerous. Court-imposed workloads can be heavy, and counselors may need to work odd hours. Despite drawbacks, many counselors find the work of helping offenders rewarding.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), probation counselors earn a median annual salary of $46,530 with the top 10 percent earning up to $78,860. The BLS projects employment to grow by 19% between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The steady growth of incarcerated people who may soon be released from prison is one reason for the need for more probation counselors.