Probation Officer

The Job and What's Involved

Probation officers work to protect the public, promote community safety and prevent crime. In England and Wales, probation officers are members of the National Probation Service. Its aims are:

  • Protecting the public.
  • Reducing re-offending.
  • The proper punishment of offenders in the community.
  • Ensuring offenders are aware of the effects of crime on victims and the public.
  • Rehabilitation of offenders.

Probation officers' responsibilities include:

  • Court work - by providing courts with pre-sentence reports, officers can offer guidance about the best way to deal with an offender and what kind of sentence the court should consider.
  • Court orders, ensuring that offenders follow orders made by the court, such as carrying out unpaid work for the benefit of the community.
  • Working with prisoners during and after their sentences.
  • Directly, or through other agencies, working to change offenders' behaviour.
  • Working with victims of crime.

A single offender manager, usually a probation officer, now takes responsibility for each offender throughout their time in prison and when they are under supervision in the community. The aim is to provide continuity and offer the best possible chance for the offender to change their behaviour.

It is possible to enter the probation service as a probation service officer. This is at a lower grade than a probation officer. Probation service officers are responsible for tasks such as supervising offenders, maintaining case files, helping to prepare court reports and working with victims of crime.

Probation officers work to protect the public, promote community safety and prevent crime. In England and Wales, probation officers are members of the National Probation Service.

Probation officers work Monday to Friday. Some night and weekend cover may be necessary, on a rota basis.

Officers split their time between the office, interviewing offenders, often in prison, and attending court. Some traveling is necessary. A driving licence may be useful.

The starting salary for probation officers is £27,914 a year.
With more experience, earnings can rise to £35,727 a year.
Senior probation officers may earn around £40,000 with senior executives earning up to around £63,000.

Salaries are higher in and around London.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The National Probation Service (NPS), which has around 21,000 staff, currently employs all probation officers in England and Wales. It works with the Prison Service to provide the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which is now part of the Ministry of Justice.

Probation officers work for regional probation trusts. Full contact details and regional websites are published on the NPS website.

Vacancies are advertised on the websites of the probation trusts, and in Probation Bulletin. They may also appear in the local press, ethnic minority press and Jobcentre Plus offices. With recent changes to the structure of the service, job opportunities are good.

Education and Training

There are two possible entry routes:

Candidates may train as a probation service officer (PSO). On qualifying as a PSO, they may apply to study for a three-part degree in community justice, alongside a Diploma in probation practice at Level 5. On successful completion they may apply for probation officer posts.

Entrants who have a relevant first degree may join the service and study for a Graduate Diploma in community justice. This is a shorter course, equivalent to the third part of the full community justice degree. Graduate entrants also complete the Vocational Diploma in probation practice.

Relevant first degree subjects include criminology, criminal justice, community justice and police studies. The usual entry requirements for a degree are two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications. Entry requirements vary, so candidates should check with individual institutions. Those without the usual entry qualifications may take an Access course.

Entrants without a degree usually need to have five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent to join as a PSO. This requirement may vary between probation areas. Those with relevant work experience may also be accepted.

The Diplomas in public services and in society, health and development may be relevant for this role.

Entrants must be able to cope with academic study at degree level.

Applicants have to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau and register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority. Any previous convictions must be declared, but they should not automatically prevent entry. Offences of violence or against children are an automatic bar to admission; other cases are judged on their merits.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

All new recruits to the Probation Service go through an induction in their first two weeks in the job. This introduces the purpose, core work, vision and values of the Probation Service.

Probation service officer trainees are expected to qualify with the Level 3 Diploma in probation practice within a year of appointment. Subject to internal selection, they may then start to study towards the probation officer role. This combines academic study with workplace-based training.

Topics include:

  • Public protection and the risk of serious harm.
  • Equality and diversity.
  • Offender management and interventions.
  • Assessing and managing offending behaviour.
  • Understanding crime, criminal behaviour and the justice system.
  • Interpersonal skills.

Successful completion of the first two parts of the academic element leads to a foundation degree in community justice.

The third part of the degree and the Graduate Diploma cover advanced areas of the same topics, such as specialist tools for dealing with violent and sex offenders. It also includes a work-based research project. Candidates who successfully complete this section, along with the vocational element, are able to apply for probation officer posts.

Once qualified, probation officers are expected to continue their professional development (CPD) and stay up to date with new research.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Probation officers need to be:

  • Able to work with a wide range of people.
  • Patient and objective.
  • Mature.
  • Responsible.
  • Capable of working as part of a team.
  • Able to research and write clear, concise reports.
  • Able to gain the trust and confidence of offenders.
  • Able to assess risk and make a judgment about when to intervene.
  • Sympathetic to the personal pressures which may cause individuals to commit offences.
  • Able to manage stressful situations, such as meetings with people who may be angry or upset.
  • Organised and able to deal with complex case loads.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion in probation work often involves moving up to management level rather than continuing to work with offenders. Promotion to these senior grades depends on experience and ability.

Some probation officers may prefer to remain at the 'hands-on' level.

Opportunities to specialise in a certain area of work, for example as a programme facilitator, may be available.

Get Further Information

Ministry of Justice,
6th Floor, Temple Court,
35 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6WF
Tel: 0121 250 6350

National Probation Service,
1st Floor, Abell House,
John Islip Street, London SW1P 4LH

Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499

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