Parole officers are an integral part of the United States justice system and play crucial roles in reintegrating offenders who have served jail terms back into society. It is estimated that 4.5 million Americans, that is, more than twice the county’s jail population, are either on probation or parole. This career is a social aspect of law enforcement. Every professional service provider you get to see out there, whether they are doctors, nurses, professors, aero engineers, or even parole officers, all started somewhere. It did not just happen.
In this article, we would see how to become a parole officer, and as you read further, you will get a better understanding of the job overview, the major duties and tasks associated with this job, steps to take to become a parole officer, training every potential officer must undergo, useful skillset and experience to land you the job, and how much parole officers earn.
Who is a Parole Officer?
Every prisoner being remanded in a mini- or maximum-security prison in the United States may have committed certain degrees of crime. Some may have served time for serious criminal cases, while others may be convicted to serve light sentences.
However, there are instances where the court may rule that convicts who have served time for serious criminal charges be released from prison on the condition that a third party will supervise them. If these convicts get to exhibit good behavior and comply with the third-party supervisor’s policies and conditions, they could be freed unconditionally. In simple terms, the third party who offers supervisory services is called a parole officer, while the offender who is being guided by the parole officer is called a parolee.
Parole officers help to reintegrate parolees back into society. They are very instrumental in helping parolees undergo educational rehabilitation, social rehabilitation, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and so much more.
Parole officers can effectively perform their duties by visiting parolees in their homes and places of work and synergizing with the government and other organizations to secure jobs for parolees. However, this depends on the laws guiding the state.
As parole officers watch convicts outside the confines of the prison, they are to ensure that the offenders do not recommit the offence that landed them in jail in the first instance.
Brief History of the Parole System
Knowing who a parole officer is and an overview of the job will be incomplete without knowing how the subject of parole came about. Let us briefly look at the history of this term.
Before the 1850s, when determinate sentencing was in vogue, offenders who committed specific crimes were incarcerated for a specific period. However, the system was soon faced with the challenges of overcrowding. This prompted governors to randomly release prisoners or grant pardons so that fresh offenders could take up the free spaces.
Several texts have attributed the development of parole systems to Captain Alexander Maconochie who governed the English colony of Norfolk Island, off the Australian coast, in 1840, and an Irishman named Sir Walter Crofton.
In the 1840s, English offenders were transported from England to Australia and then, Norfolk Island. The conditions were extremely terrible.
Eliminating the determinate sentencing was the first thing Maconochie did when he assumed power in Norfolk Island. This way, offenders did not get to serve full sentences but earned their freedom through hard work and good behavior while behind bars. Offenders had to pass through a series of stages, beginning with severe imprisonment, then conditional release, and ultimately, freedom.
Sir Walter Crofton shared the same ideologies with Maconochie, floated the strict imprisonment, indeterminate sentences, and tickets-of-freedom as the three categories of penal servitude when he headed the Irish Prison in 1854.
In the United States, Zebulon Brockway, a Michigan penologist, is recognized for initiating the indeterminate sentences and parole release when he worked as a superintendent of Elmira Reformatory for youthful offenders in New York in 1876. He believed that the system’s main advantages were that overcrowding in prisons would be checked and offenders will be reformed since good behavior guaranteed their release. Volunteer guardians (those we now call parole officers) were recruited to supervise parolees, and a report of their behavior in the community was recorded. Reports were made to the government monthly.
Concepts that underlined paroles in the US included reducing sentences based on good behavior, parolee supervision, and indeterminate sentences. By 1944, every state in the United States offered parole release and indeterminate sentencing.
Duties of Parole Officer (Job Description)
We now know that parole officers are assigned to offenders who have been conditionally released from prison to supervise them. The job of a parole officer includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Supervisory and counseling services: After the conditional release of parolees, parole officers’ job is to supervise them and ensure they stay out of trouble. The parole officers also get to counsel their clients and advise them on what and what not to properly get reintegrated into society and stay out of subsequent trouble. They continue to keep a close watch on the parolees by monitoring their movement.
- Coordinating education, training, housing, and job placement: It is the job of a parole officer to coordinate parolees’ educational and social rehabilitation. These officers work to ensure parolees can secure accommodation, get relevant training, and secure jobs. The parole officers collaborate with various law enforcement and social service agencies to ensure the parolees get the maximum support needed to reintegrate into society.
- Keeping records to influence final court judgment: Parole officers are required to keep concise records on the cases of each of their parolees because both parties engage in consistent communication. These records will serve as a guide to determine if progress is being achieved in the rehabilitation of the parolees or not. The reports will monitor the parolees’ progress at work and how they interact with members of society. If the records show that a parolee has attained significant progress, he may be left to walk a free man.
- Explaining policies and procedures to Parolees: Parolees are only released from prisons after certain policies and conditions that they must abide by are drafted. Therefore, it is the job of the parole officer to ensure that these conditions are being met. There will, however, be situations where the offenders will not understand what these policies and conditions mean. It is the parole officers’ job to review these terms and conditions and explain them to the comprehension of the parolee.
- Investigating parolees by interviewing useful informants: A parole officer’s job does not just stop at monitoring and supervising a parolee. It also includes speaking to friends, employers, colleagues, and family members of the offenders to see if the rehabilitation process yields the desired result. With these investigations, the parole officer will inform the court on how long the offender will need to be kept under supervision.
Necessary Skills Parole Officers Must Have:
Parolees may be nationals of different countries, therefore, will have different lifestyles and background. Parole must not shy away from their jobs because they will get to work with different parolees encountered in the line of duty. Having a university degree in relevant fields like Social Work or law is not enough. The skills relevant to the job is what makes it complete.
Relevant skills parole officers must have include:
- Good communication: Parole officers must be able to communicate both in verbal and written forms. Their mode of communication must be clear to the understanding of parolees and other law enforcement bodies or social workers who are also involved in reintegrating the parolees back into society. Parole officers also write reports which are submitted to judges and court of law to enable them to make critical decisions regarding the parolees. Good writing skill is one of the ingredients that will help you land a job as a parole officer.
- Problem-solving: Parole officers will have to brainstorm on the court’s policies and conditions for the conditional release of a parolee. Critical thinking supports problem-solving ability, which will help them draw effective strategies for parolees to abide by.
- Work under pressure and multitasks: Parole officers may get to work with more than one parolee at a time. Knowing how to handle the pressure that comes with the job, prioritizing, and multitasking is a top shot for the job.
- Time management: A parole officer who fails to manage his time will fail to work under pressure and prioritize. Do you want to fail as a parole officer? If ‘NO’ is your answer, learn how to manage your time now.
Average Salary Earned by Parole Officers in the United States
While some people may decide to pursue careers just for the love of it, others may do it for what they can get. We will look at how much parole officers in the United States earn and the states that pay more. According to data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, parole officers’ salaries across the United States are based on senior-level scales. So, there is a probability that the average salary in your city will be different from what parole officers in order cities earn. According to the popular job site, Indeed, the average salary a parole officer in the United States earns is $46,527 per year. Officers at the peak of the scale could earn as high as $113,000 per year, while those at the bottom earn as low as $14,000. For each state and depending on educational level, training or certification, these figures may vary.
Other benefit packages could include insurance and retirement packages. Zippia Careers’ survey ranks Iowa, Illinois, Rhode Island, Michigan, Minnesota, California, New Jersey, Nevada, Washington, and Colorado as the top ten states with better earnings for parole officers.
How to Become a Parole Officer
Certain requirements must be met for an individual to become a parole officer fully. The education aspect entails getting a university degree, the interview, screening, and testing aspect, and undergoing relevant training on the job. Below are some steps to take to become a successful parole officer:
Step 1. Earn a University degree in criminal justice or related field
Because parole officers are expected to understand how the United States criminal justice system works and know the best approach to ensure parolees are fully reintegrated into society, getting a university degree in fields related to these functions is important. Behavioral science, Criminology, Social Work, Sociology, Psychology, Human and International Relations, and Law are examples of courses that people looking to becoming parole officers can study. While a bachelor’s degree is okay, it is not sufficient as some parole officer jobs require a master’s degree.
Step 2. Embark on Internships programs to gain relevant experience
It is very rare to get a job as a parole officer without having relevant experience. As a fresh university graduate, you could get experience by embarking on internship programs. You can intern in several places, and they include law enforcement agencies, criminal investigation departments, case management offices, and correctional facilities. Working as an intern in these establishments will ensure that your skills necessary for carrying out background checks and investigations will be adequately polished.
Step 3. Apply to an open position and go through the requirement
The recruitment of parole officers is a very meticulous process; hence applicants may be faced with stiff competition. States in the US may have varying requirements when seeking to employ parole officers. As a potential officer, it is necessary to go through the requirement and needed documents and ensure you meet them.
Some common requirements for parole officers include:
- Being a United States citizen
- Age requirement (varies with states)
- Relevant educational qualifications r(Bachelor’s or Master’s degree)
- Must be decent
- Taking a qualifying examination and scaling through the interviews
- Must not be an ex-convict
- Subjecting yourself to a background check.
Documents that may be required to apply for parole officer jobs include:
- Social security card
- University certificates and transcripts
- Updated Curriculum Vitae
- A valid driver’s license
Prepare for the examination and interview
After applying to an open position for a parole officer, the next stage is to qualify by passing an examination. The exams, which could be supervised by states or the federal government, are mostly administered to assess applicants’ skills and knowledge. Most parole officer exams comprise a writing test, comprehension test, numerical and verbal aptitude. Yes, these exams may come as essay or multiple-choice questions.
Passing the examination means that you will be interviewed before a panel. The panelists will probably ask you behavioral questions to see if you are a perfect fit for the job. The key to being successful in the interview is to prepare adequately before appearing before the panel.
Some questions you may be asked include:
- Why do you want to work as a parole office?
- What relevant skills do you have for this job?
- What will do if a parolee begins to make physical threats?
- What strategies will you use to evaluate the progress being made by a parolee?
- How can you convince a parolee to trust you?
- Can you work under pressure?
- Undergo the parole officer academy training
If you are successful at the interview stage of the recruitment, you will definitely get hired, giving you a ticket to embark on training at the academy. During the training, you will be paired with a senior parole officer who will mentor you for several weeks to months while improving your skills in interacting with offenders, tracking parolees, and keeping a valid record of reports presented in court.
Training such as sensitivity training, family and child psychology training, and specialized sex offender training will also be given to parole officers who deal with different categories of offenders like sex offenders. Parole officers will also be taught arrest procedures and use lethal weapons when a parolee recommits an offense and will need to be rearrested.
Upon completing the initial training, the new parole officer will work with a supervisor for six months to one year before being allowed to take up cases independently; however, this is dependent on the state or city.
Job Schedule of Parole Officers:
The job schedule of parole officers is a question that is frequently asked. Parole officers work based on the United States’ traditional work schedule, 40 hours a week and 8 hours a day.
However, during events when parolees’ policies and conditions are altered, parole officers condition their minds to work overtime or are on call at night or on weekends. The major goal is to satisfy the client.
How Parole Officers Differ from Probation Officers
While parole and probation officers have many similarities in common and are often used interchangeably, slight differences exist between both. To know how these terms differ is to have an understanding of what the terms, parole, and probation, mean. Probation is the process whereby an offender’s sentence is increased and will be completed outside a correctional facility. A probation officer is appointed to each probationer to ensure that the probation requirements are met and that the offenders fully re-joined into society after completing their sentence. As we have seen above, parole is an early conditional release from a correctional facility, and parole officers are tasked with supervising the offenders and reintegrating them into society.
Challenges Parole Officers May Encounter
There is no doubt that some individuals find the role of a parole officer as one that is fulfilling, however, these officers are bound to face challenges such as threats to safety, low pay as well as pressure-induced stress and burnouts.
- Work-related threats: Parole officers who work in unfriendly neighborhoods are likely to encounter threats while discharging their duties. Parolees who continue to battle drug addictions may be prompted to use violence or force against parole officers. A 2005 research conducted by the United States Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice showed that an average of 49 percent of parole officers faced threats in four different states.
- Pressure-related stress and burnouts: Several surveys have shown that many parole officers experience stress and burnouts, which always takes a toll on their performance. This is because of the pressure constantly heaped on them by politicians, supervisors, or even the public. The stress usually strains their relationships with parolees and other supervisors. The negative side is that when their career advancement is being hampered, they are forced to either retire or seek other jobs.
Testimonials of the Parole System
There are several reviews of the parole system. While some are negative, others are positive. For instance, Jason Hardy, a former parole officer who now works as a special agent for the FBI, told NPR that he took a job as a parole officer in New Orleans in 2012 because he wanted to make a difference in United States criminal justice system. However, he said he lost interest after working long hours with multiple parolees and could not meet his basic needs with the meager pay. In August 2020, Christopher Sheffield told a parole board that he was able to defeat several addictions during his time on parole.
“Because of the opportunity the Parole Board gave me, I then was able to re-educate myself and position myself to educate and re-educate others, and that’s been the most gratifying thing that I’ve received,” Sheffield told the Parole Board. So, there we have it. We have seen who a parole officer is, the job description, and how to train to become one. To our readers who may decide to take up careers as a parole officer, we wish you the absolute best.