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Probation officers are social workers/court officers employed by the Probation Service to supervise offenders and released prisoners in the community and to help them lead law-abiding lives.
They need to have a fair-minded approach and the ability to get on with all kinds of people.

What do probation officers do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Working with offenders or ex-offenders who have emotional, behavioural or psychological problems can make the job stressful and demanding. However, helping people better themselves can be a particularly rewarding role. Responsibilities of the job include:

  • providing advice and information about offenders to assist with court sentencing
  • writing/presenting pre-sentence and pre-release reports
  • helping offenders come to terms with custodial sentences
  • undertaking one-to-one and group work activities
  • organising and overseeing community service work
  • befriending and counselling offenders and their families
  • supervising junior staff
  • helping with the rehabilitation of ex-offenders into the community
  • visiting offenders at home, in court, prison, hostels or other penal institutions
  • supporting the victims of some violent or sexual crimes
  • liaising with the police, social services and other authorities

Probation officers typically work a 37-hour week, although some overtime and on-call work may be necessary.

Typical employers of probation officers

Most probation officers in England and Wales are employed by the National Probation Service. In Scotland, probation work is carried out by criminal justice social workers in local authority departments. Positions in probation work attract strong competition so some relevant work experience is recommended. A number of probation services organise voluntary work experience schemes.

Vacancies are advertised via careers services, in national newspapers and in specialist publications including Probation Bulletin, Community Care and their respective websites.

Qualifications and training required

In order to become a probation officer it is normally necessary to possess a degree, although it’s also possible to enter the profession with vocational qualifications or a higher apprenticeship.

To join the probation service you will need to complete the Level 6 Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP). To apply for the PQiP you will need a higher education qualification such as an honours or foundation degree, diploma of higher education (DipHE), higher apprenticeship or vocational qualifications. You also need to have completed four HE course modules that cover the criminal justice system, crime and criminal behaviour, penal policy and rehabilitation of offenders.

It is also possible to qualify as a probation officer by working first as a probation services officer. After securing that position you would then need to take a vocational qualification level 3 diploma followed by a level 5 diploma, both in in probation practice. After this, you would be eligible to complete the PQiP.

The National Probation Service encourages on-the-job training with a view to either gaining a specialism or moving into management. Given the amount of travelling associated with the role, a driving licence may be necessary.

Key skills for probation officers

  • The ability to cope with stressful situations
  • Assertiveness
  • An open mind
  • Maturity
  • Integrity
  • Team skills
  • Administrative skills
  • Oral/written communication skills

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