A probation officer supervises offenders given probationary sentences by the court in lieu of incarceration. An officer usually specializes in either adult or juvenile probation, though an officer can do both. The educational requirements for a probation officer usually preclude him from having less than a four-year college degree. There are some instances in which a candidate with an associate degree can become a probation officer.
An associate degree in criminal justice or a related field is usually insufficient to pursue a career as a probation officer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a four-year bachelor's degree in criminal justice or a related field including psychology or social work is usually necessary. Coursework can vary, though it should include subject areas such as criminology, pretrial services, sociology, criminal investigation technique, counseling, substance abuse treatment, self defense and criminal law. A prospective probation officer cannot receive the level of in-depth study necessary from a two-year associate degree program.
Bridge Degree Programs
A student wanting to become a probation officer may enter an associate degree program designed to transfer credits into a four-year university program after completing two years of full-time coursework. These bridge programs are available at community colleges around the country and are useful for a student with lower income or a desire to have smaller class sizes and a more personal educational experience. The student may also tailor her community college experience to include some survey criminal justice courses that will help prepare her for more in-depth study at the university level.
Additional Training Requirements
State and federal levels of law enforcement require additional training for probation officers. This training familiarizes a prospective probation officer with the relevant statutes for monitoring offenders, legal/illegal monitoring techniques and the expectations for performance set by the particular department. After this training, a candidate must successfully complete a certification exam to formally accept a position as a probation officer. Failing the exam usually washes the candidate out of the program. Upon completion, the officer enters a six-month to year-long trial employment period before securing a permanent position.
Prior Correctional Experience
A state probation department may consider a candidate with an associate degree for a position as a probation officer if the candidate has relevant prior experience in law enforcement. This experience may include previous employment as a corrections officer, police officer or other law enforcement official. A department may also consider a candidate with an associate degree who has prior experience as a member of the military police or received an honorable discharge from military service.