What does a Probation Officer do?
Probation officers, known in Scotland as criminal justice
social workers, supervise people who have committed
an offence. Their main duty is to protect the public by
encouraging offenders not to re-offend, to address their
behaviour and comply with court orders; this is done in
partnership with other organisations such as social
services, the police and the prison service.
role of a probation officer is varied and challenging and
involves working with offenders before, during, and after
their sentence, and when they are on supervision in the
community. Their main responsibilities include:
Court work - this involves preparing pre-
sentence reports (PSR) which offer guidance on the most
appropriate way to deal with the offender. The reports
are time consuming and compiled only after interviewing
the offender and other relevant people. Probation
officers also advise on community penalties, hostels and
In Scotland, social workers
work with young offenders through the Children’s
Hearing System and play a key role in requesting further
investigations and providing reports.
orders - this involves enforcing court orders, such
as community orders, covering rehabilitation and
punishment. Probation officers work closely with
offenders planning, supervising and managing their
Probation officers also contribute to
decisions about early release and undertake risk
Increasingly, the probation
service is working with victims of crime, helping them to
rebuild their lives and overcome their fears about an
offender’s eventual release.
What's the working environment like working as a Probation Officer?
The basic working week will be 37 to 40 hours, Monday
to Friday, although night and weekend cover may be
necessary. Time off in lieu for working unsociable hours
may be offered and there may be some freedom to
organise your own working patterns.
be split between the office, interviewing offenders (often
in prison) and attending court. Some travelling is
What does it take to become a Probation Officer?
To be a probation officer, you should:
- be able
to work and communicate with a wide range of
- be patient and objective
mature and responsible
- be able to gain the trust
and confidence of offenders
- be sympathetic to
the personal pressures which may cause individuals to
- be able to manage stressful
- be a strong, persuasive communicator
and able to speak confidently in court
- be able to
research and write clear, concise reports
organised and able to deal with complex case-loads.
Probation Officer Career Opportunities
In England and Wales, the National Probation Service
(NPS) is split into 42 local service areas funded by the
In Scotland, no separate
probation service exists and local authority social work
departments have responsibility for probation work.
Competition for jobs is fierce and only a small
proportion of applicants to trainee posts are successful.
The number of trainee posts is increasing, however, and
qualified probation officers are very much in demand.
There is approximately 19,000 staff in the
probation service, split between probation officer and
non-probation officer grades. They are concentrated
largely in urban areas.
There are non-probation
officer jobs available for those willing to study for
NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Community Justice and include
community service officers, hostel staff and Probation
Service Officers (PSOs). Further information is available
from local probation offices.
probation work often means moving into management,
although it is possible to specialise, for example in hostel
or prison work.