Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Difference Between Probation and Parole Officers

Because the primary goal of many criminal justice system careers is so similar, identifying the differences between certain careers can be difficult. While the primary goals of probation and parole officers are similar, how they achieve these goals couldn't be more different. If you're interested in pursuing a goal within the corrections industry, but aren't sure which educational and career pathway to embark upon, take a moment to understand the true differences between probation and parole officers.

Differences Among Probation and Parole Officers

Due to the vast amount of similarities between these two professions, many students become confused regarding which is the ideal choice. While both professionals assist criminals to integrate back into society through a combination of case management, social work, counseling and supervision, there are also several distinct differences. These critical differences are discussed below:

The primary difference between these two careers is how these professionals interact with convicted offenders. Parole officers communicate and deal with offenders who have been released from a correctional facility after completing part or all of their sentence. Probation officers supervise and monitor offenders who were sentenced to a specific probation duration rather than being incarcerated.

As a parole officer, you'll execute the actions deemed appropriate by the Parole Board. These professional-level board's interview incarcerated offenders and determine whether or not they're ready for early release. Part of the primary duties of a parole officer is to ensure released offenders stick to the conditions of their parole and assist offenders throughout the transition between independent living and institutionalization.

Probation officers play a similar role; however, the offenders they deal with have not been recently released from a prison system. Instead, the convicted offender must adhere to specific probation terms set forth by the sentencing court. Probation officers ensure these offenders meet these requirements by closely dealing with an offender's daily life.

In terms of responsibilities, each of these professionals carries a significant amount of daily duties; however, the caseload of probation officers tends to be significantly higher than parole officers. Because of the sensitive nature of newly released prisoners, parole officers typically meet with offenders on a more regular basis than probation officers. However, both professionals interact with offenders based upon the offender's likelihood of repeating a crime. For example, an offender who has a greater propensity for committing a crime (either the same or an unrelated crime) will visit his parole or probation officer more frequently than one whose entry into the criminal justice system was more of an aberration from his standard behavior than a pattern. 

For more on the differences between these professions, as well as a guide on what you can do with a criminal justice degree, click here.

How to Become a Corrections Officer

Also referred to as detention or correctional officers, corrections officers are responsible for monitoring those who have entered the correctional system. These professionals deal with offenders who are currently awaiting trial or those who have been sentenced to incarceration. Because of this, corrections officers may be found in court systems, local jail systems or in federal prison systems. If you're interested in becoming a corrections officer, it's essential to ensure you obtain the necessary level of training based upon employing state regulations. While exact eligibility requirements to enter this profession can vary by state, the following requirements are considered universal throughout the United States.

Educational Requirements for Corrections Officers

While a high school diploma or GED is required for those wishing to enter this field, the level of college education can vary from state-to-state. Regardless, career advisers and respected resources throughout the United States suggest aspiring correctional officers obtain an associate or bachelor's degree in criminal justice. The higher your degree, the more competitive you'll be in this field. Due to the high number of applicants for a corrections officer position, the more competitive you are, the greater the likelihood of landing a desirable job.

While a major in criminal justice is preferred, enhance your employment opportunities by holding a concentration in law enforcement or police studies. Course topics within this educational pathway typically consist of peacekeeping strategies, constitutional law, criminal investigation and criminology. If the institution you attend offers a corrections emphasis, then you should apply for this concentration.

In some cases, those who have military or previous law enforcement experience may be hired as a corrections officer without an advanced-level degree. Moreover, if you wish to enter the workforce in a position to gain advancement into management level positions, continue your education to gain a master's degree in criminal justice.

Along with completing a college education, aspiring correctional officers are required to successfully complete written and physical examinations. Written exams determine your overall understanding of the various theories involved in this career field while the physical examinations ensure you're physically fit enough to handle the various demands this job requires. Each of these exams is overseen by your State Department of Law Enforcement.

If you're interested in working within a federal prison system, you'll be required to meet specific educational and physical guidelines, which as of 2014 include:

  • Bachelor's degree in criminal justice
  • Be no older than 36 years of age unless they've worked in a federal law enforcement position in the past
  • Have zero felony convictions on their record
  • Hold current status as a U.S. citizen

Educational Requirements for Top Criminal Justice Careers

Much like any other regulated industry, the criminal justice system features a myriad of educational requirements based upon specific jobs. If you're interested in starting a career within this complex and challenging industry, then your first step is to uncover the training requirements for the fields you're most interested in pursuing. While there are literally hundreds of different criminal justice careers, the following list includes the top career options and its respectable educational requirements. It's important to note, most of these careers are regulated at the local or state level. Because of this, it's important to contact your state board of education or your state licensing board to determine exact educational pathways.

List of Criminal Justice Careers and Their Educational Requirements

  • ATF Special Agent - Bachelor's degree in criminal justice as well as a passing score on theoretical and practical examinations. Aspiring agents must meet psychological and physical requirements, which are overseen by the federal government. 
  • Border Patrol Agent - Bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a concentration in homeland security. However, entry-level positions may accept an associate's degree with three years of work experience in law enforcement or private investigation. 
  • Corrections Officer - Associate's degree in criminal justice. However, some correctional institutions hire those who hold a high school diploma/GED and a certificate in criminal justice*.
  • Crime Scene Investigator - Based upon the jurisdiction, aspiring CSI officers may enter the workforce with an associate's degree. However, the majority of positions require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a concentration in crime scene investigation. Enhance employment and advancement opportunities by obtaining a master's degree in criminal justice or forensic science. 
  • Criminologist - Bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a concentration in criminology is typically required for entry-level positions. Those with a master's degree in criminology have the highest employment and advancement outlook. 
  • Paralegal - Entry-level positions tend to require a certificate in paralegal studies; however, more advanced-level positions require an associate's or bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a minor in paralegal studies. 
  • Probation Officer - The most successful probation officers carry a bachelor's degree in criminal justice with extra coursework in probation techniques and topics. 
  • Homeland Security Agent - Bachelor's degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in homeland security. Those with a master's in homeland security feature the greatest employment and advancement opportunities.
  • National Security Agency Police Officer - Bachelor's or master's degree in criminal justice as well as completion of a specialized training program established by the federal government.