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Jobs You Can Get with a Criminal Justice Degree (Probation versus Parole)

You’re the person who loves to help others with their problems. If you find it rewarding when you help others but do not want to be a police officer, consider a career as a probation officer or parole officer. But, applicants often confuse the responsibilities and the required qualifications to enter these criminal justice careers.

What are the Differences Between Probation and Parole

Probation and parole function as monitoring agents of convicted offenders, but this is where the similarity ends. Probation is a sentence handed down by a judge instead of going to jail. It is normally reserved for non-violent, first time offenders. However, jail and prison overcrowding now enables even felonies to qualify for probationary sentences meaning this career is growing exponentially. A judge will opt for a probationary sentence if he believes the offender is amenable to substance abuse or mental health treatment and will abide by the rules of probation. Also, if the offender does not adhere to the rules of probation then they will automatically be remanded to jail. I teach my students to remember this formula if they get confused by the terms probation and parole: probation = jail, parole = prison.

Parole is not a sentence. Parole is the monitoring of prisoners after they have served their prison sentences and get released. There are stipulations and rules for parolees to follow and they are closely monitored by their parole officer. Normally, many of the same stipulations exist for probationers and parolees such as: maintain employment, submit to random drug and alcohol tests, avoid risky people and places, appear for scheduled visits to their parole officer, and do not commit a crime. Of course, if a parolee violates any of these functions he will be returned to prison.

Probation Officer Job Description

A career as a probation officer is half law enforcement and half social worker because while the probation officer acts as a behavior monitor for the offender, probation officers also help offenders succeed while in the community. They do this by helping the offender find a job, checking with school officials if the offender attends school, documents scheduled visits, attends court hearings and communicates with employers, counselors, and judges regarding the offender’s progress. And, all of these functions must be documented meaning that there is an extensive amount of writing required by this profession.

Parole Officer Job Description

Parole officers are employed by the state. They help ex-prisoners make the difficult transition back into society after being incarcerated for many years. Parole officers help ex-prisoners find employment, a safe, crime free place to live, treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues, and are there to monitor the ex-convict with weekly visits and random drug tests. The biggest difference between probation and parole individuals is the violence level. Individuals confined to a prison normally committed violent crimes and for this reason the parole officer must attend an academy, learn to shoot and be prepared to carry a firearm on the job. As with a probation career, the parole officer attend court hearing with parole violators and must communicate with the judge regarding violations.

Job Requirements for Probation Officers and Parole Officers

Both probation officers and parole officers must acquire a Bachelor’s degree, preferably in one of the social sciences such as psychology, criminal justice, sociology or human services. Parole officers must also attend and pass the parole academy. Candidates for both positions must pass a criminal background, prove they have a clean driving record and pass oral, written, physical and psychological examinations.


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