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.
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.
To be a probation officer, you should:
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.
Promotion in probation work often means moving into management, although it is possible to specialise, for example in hostel or prison work.
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