Careers in Justice
Probation and Parole Officer
Parole officers help recently released offenders reintegrate into society while keeping an eye on them. For example, officers can assist offenders with finding employment or help them reduce their risk of re-offending.
Probation officers supervise and help offenders who have been placed on probation.
Probation and parole officers help ensure public safety by overseeing offenders who are serving their sentence or part of it in the community.
What is the difference between parole and probation?
Parole and probation are two different types of supervision.
Parole is a type of community supervision generally available to offenders after serving a certain period of their sentence in prison. However, parole does not reduce the length of a prison term. In fact, a person is still considered a detainee, but one who is serving the rest of a sentence while living in the community, rather than in a prison, subject to certain conditions. Parole allows offenders to take concrete steps towards integrating back into society, steps aimed at reducing the risk of them committing another crime, also known as recidivism.
Probation, however, is not necessarily tied to a prison term. It can be the only sentence a person convicted of a crime receives. A judge sentences a person to probation not as a form of punishment but rather to “keep an eye on them” in order to help them through the rehabilitation process. Three years is the maximum term of a probation sentence.
While parole and probation officers perform different functions, there is some overlap in their work.
The work of these two types of officers can be broken down into three main areas of responsibility: supervision, support and prevention as well as assessment.
Probation and parole officers supervise offenders serving part of their sentence in the community or who have been put on probation. The officers also provide these individuals with help and direction, particularly by connecting them with appropriate resources available to them.
Offenders who have been granted parole or who have been sentenced to probation must regularly report to their probation or parole officer. The officer ensures offenders are respecting their probation or parole conditions. These conditions can include:
- Respecting a curfew;
- Staying away from or not communicating with a particular person;
- Avoiding areas where there are criminals;
- Avoiding schoolyards;
- Not moving to a different location;
- Doing community work;
- Undergoing drug or alcohol treatment;
- Not consuming alcohol; and
- Not owning firearms.
Ensuring offenders respect their conditions, which help protect members of the public, is a very important part of the officer’s work. If parole or probation conditions are breached, the officer must advise the authorities, who will then take the appropriate measures (for example, return the offender to prison).
SUPPORT AND PREVENTION
Probation officers and parole officers are also there to assist with the rehabilitation of offenders and their reintegration into society and to help prevent offenders from committing another crime. Depending on the situation, officers may help offenders:
- Find employment;
- Look for housing;
- Make new friends; or
- Deal with addictions.
Together with the offender, the officer will develop an individual intervention plan aimed at, first and foremost, eliminating the offenders “criminogenic” needs (i.e., what drives their criminal behaviour). The officer’s role is to:
- Understand the problems an offender is dealing with; and
- Provide counselling to offenders and refer them to community organizations or programs that may be helpful to them.
Probation and parole officers must produce a number of reports. They comment on the progress offenders are making in integrating back into society and whether they have been complying with the conditions of their release, etc.
Probation officers evaluate offenders from the beginning of the probation period. They also evaluate the offender’s current situation as time goes on. If the offenders are at high risk of re-offending, they must meet with their officer more often and take additional steps to increase their success at reintegrating and reduce their chances of returning to a criminal lifestyle.
When a person is found guilty of a crime, a probation officer prepares a pre-sentence report to assist the judge in deciding which sentence would be appropriate. The officer looks at:
- The offender's living environment: childhood situation, family, friends, work, leisure activities, economic and social situations;
- The offender’s family situation;
- The circumstances surrounding the crime; and
- Steps to help the offender do what is needed to improve his or her future, such as undergo therapy, conduct job searching, etc.).
In short, probation and parole officers play an important role in the legal process both before and after sentencing.
Probation officers usually work for the provincial governments while parole officers work for the federal government.
Probation and parole officers are never self-employed.
There is currently no particular program for becoming a probation or parole officer. However, a university degree, preferably in the social sciences, is usually required.
You must also complete the training given by your province’s correctional services. Any prior experience working with offenders is a major asset.
Visit the websites below to learn more about the employment prospects:
- In Ontario, visit the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services website.
- In Manitoba, visit the Justice Manitoba website.
- In Alberta, visit the Government of Alberta’s Occupational Profiles (OCCinfo) website.
- In British Columbia, visit Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General (BC Corrections Branch) website and the Justice Institute of BC’s Corrections & Community Justice Division website.
- In New Brunswick, visit the New Brunswick Employment website.
Probation and parole officers now work with other individuals who were not involved in working with offenders in the past. For example, correctional officers have become more involved in the process of reintegration than they were in the past. Nonetheless, the expertise of probation and parole officers, who already play a leadership role in assessing an offender’s risk of re-offending, in criminal matters will be in increasingly higher demand. These officers will spend more of their time assessing an offender’s risk of re-offending and identifying offenders’ needs rather than supervising them and keeping track of their activities.
Consult this list of key competencies that would be helpful to you as a legal assistant.
Ability to interact well with others
Probation and parole officers must earn the trust and respect of the offenders they are responsible for. They must also possess good interpersonal skills and empathy.
Ability to be firm
Probation and parole officers must ensure offenders follow the conditions of their probation and parole orders. To do so, they must be firm and self-confident.
Probation and parole officers must have the analytical skills required to draft reports recommending a sentence, evaluate the degree of risk an offender represents or describe the progress an offender has made during the rehabilitation process.
Probation and parole officers can often find themselves in volatile situations. How can they convince hardened criminals to follow the terms and conditions of release imposed on them without experiencing backlash from them? How can they convince criminals that they have violent tendencies and must do something about it? To do all of these things, the officers must be very skilled at diffusing crisis situations and choosing the right words in difficult situations.
These are just some examples of the skills you would need to be a probation or parole officer. Qualities like being open-minded, determined and having good judgment would also help make you an excellent officer