Probation Officer Careers

How to become Probation Officer

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.

The 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 probation centres.

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.

Court 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 sentence.

Probation officers also contribute to decisions about early release and undertake risk assessments.

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.

Time will be split between the office, interviewing offenders (often in prison) and attending court. Some travelling is necessary.

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 people
  • be patient and objective
  • be mature and responsible
  • be able to gain the trust and confidence of offenders
  • be sympathetic to the personal pressures which may cause individuals to commit offences
  • be able to manage stressful situations
  • be a strong, persuasive communicator and able to speak confidently in court
  • be able to research and write clear, concise reports
  • be 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 Home Office.

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.

Promotion in probation work often means moving into management, although it is possible to specialise, for example in hostel or prison work.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Probation Officer that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

National Probation Service
Horseferry House
Dean Ryle Street

Probation Board for Northern Ireland
80-90 North Street
Tel: 028 9026 2400

Skills for Justice
9 Riverside Court
Don Road
S9 2TJ
Tel: 0114 261 1499

Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC)
Compass House
11 Riverside Drive
Tel: 01382 207101

Scottish Institute for Excellence in Social Work Education

Wales Probation Training Consortium
4-7 The Broadway
CF37 1BA
Tel: 01443 494333

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