How to Become a Parole Officer

How to Become a Parole Officer

Parole officers don’t win many popularity contests. Described by one Maryland officer as “the court’s tattle tale,” a parole officer can send people back to prison when they violate the terms of their release…and nobody likes going back to prison. Yet, parole officers are also like social workers. They can help vulnerable people stay out of prison by getting them the help they need.

In other words, there’s no bad cop and good cop. As a parole officer, you’re both rolled into one. This challenging job needs people with the right mix of interpersonal skills and good judgment to take up the role.

What Does a Parole Officer Do?

Parole officers are peace officers hired by a government to uphold the law. They are paired with convicted criminals who have been let out of prison early. To stay out of prison, the offenders must demonstrate that they can integrate into society and follow the rules of their parole.

Good parole officers are post-prison guides, linking offenders to resources they may need: a career center where they can find a job, for example, or a 12-step group to kick the drinking problem that led them down the path to prison.

Parole officers are gatekeepers to the outside world, ensuring that parolees can eventually navigate their post-incarceration lives without supervision. To remain on parole, offenders must usually keep a job and notify officers of any changes in employment, stay within a defined area, stay away from crime, not have guns or other weapons, and subject themselves to searches of their property and possessions. Parole officers are charged with verifying parolees meet these and other guidelines. That may include administering drug tests, calling employers, making home visits, and keeping tabs on the parolee regularly, sometimes electronically.

Parole officers’ powers have been described as almost “God-like.” They even have the power to kill romantic relationships. Sexual offenders, for example, typically have to notify their parole officers about whom they’re dating, and the officer can veto the relationship. The same goes for unseemly work or home situations.

Most parole officers are hired by the government, usually at the state or local level, and are paid by the parole board, which makes final decisions on who gets parole and what conditions they must meet. However, several states allow probation and parole to be outsourced to for-profit companies or private providers.

Regardless of employer, parole officers have five general tasks:

  • Gathering information: You will need to understand the offender’s mental health, criminal history, and family life. Every data point – from school and work experience to friends and family – helps form a picture of the barriers people face in staying out of prison. But it also demonstrates resources they can rely on.
  • Managing cases: You’ll provide referrals to programs for psychological counseling, drug treatment, or other services. You’ll also request any relevant assistance for getting the parolee into a job, into a home, and into a good place in life.
  • Supervising: Be prepared to meet regularly with offenders and occasionally with their family members or employers. The goal is to ensure offenders are staying out of trouble.
  • Documenting: Referrals, requests, assessments – everything is written down to create a record that may one day be used in court.
  • Going to court: Most released prisoners end up back in jail, so get used to working in the court system. If a client has violated parole, you may request law enforcement make an arrest.

Parole Officer and Probation Officers: What’s the Difference?

Parole and probation officers both work with people who have been convicted of a crime. While many of their duties are the same (in some jurisdictions, such as at the federal level, officers perform both roles), the primary difference is simple: a parole officer works with people who have been released from prison. A probation officer, on the other hand, works with convicted criminals who are not sent to prison.

This means probation officers are more likely to work with nonviolent or first-time offenders who a judge believes can benefit from working, going to school, or being at home. In general, they face fewer risks to their personal safety than parole officers do. Yet they still meet a lot with their supervisees, often in their home, just like parole officers. They still administer drug tests. And they still make sure offenders are following any treatment plans for mental health issues.

Parole Officer Salary

It’s hard to find official statistics on parole officer salaries, at least on a national level, because they are grouped with probation officers. Unofficially, PayScale estimated a median salary of $44,000 as of September 2019. Because most parole officers are government workers, states typically have standard pay scales. For instance, an entry-level parole officer in Texas makes $41,704. After each year of service, they receive a pay bump.

Moreover, these scales group parole officers into classes with different pay grades. In Kansas, for instance, the Parole Officer II class takes on more difficult cases and supervises the Parole Officer I class. The extra responsibility comes with a higher salary.

In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected probation officers and correctional treatment specialists – which it groups parole officers with – would see a job growth rate of just 3% over 10 years. However, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people on parole went up 9.5% between 2006 and 2016 as the prison population slowly declined. If that trend continues, government agencies may have to hire more parole officers.

Steps to Become a Parole Officer

Government agencies set minimum requirements for parole officers. For example, in California, you must be a U.S. citizen of at least 21 years of age with normal hearing, and no felony criminal background. Once you know that you qualify, you can get started on the following steps:

  1. Get your bachelor’s degree: Most states require a B.A. or B.S. in criminal justice or a related field, such as criminology, sociology, or even public administration.
  2. Apply for a job: Individual states – as well as the federal government – run their own parole career pages. Those are good places to start searching.
  3. Undergo a background check: Background checks are mandatory for most corrections workers. Employers look to make sure you don’t have a criminal record, haven’t falsified your resume, and don’t have any red flags, like unpaid tickets, a history of getting fired, or poor credit.
  4. Pass a series of medical and psychological tests: Most of these you can’t study for. You’ll likely have to have your vision checked, get a physical, and undergo a psychological screening.
  5. Pass a drug test: Evidence of an illicit drug in your system could disqualify you from consideration, although employers will consider the circumstances. Even if marijuana is legal in your state, using it may torpedo your application.
  6. Complete classroom and field training: Before starting, you’ll likely be required to complete a training program that lasts several months. It covers a variety of skills, including firearms training, arrest protocols, domestic abuse interventions, and report writing. Once you move to the field, you’ll be supervised for a set number of hours before working solo.

Parole Officer Education Requirements

The standard path for an aspiring parole officer is to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, which is often a requirement for the job. Students in this major learn several things:

  • How the different parts of the criminal justice system (e.g., police, lawyers, judges, prison workers, etc.) work and interact
  • How to ethically balance crime prevention with civil liberties
  • Theories behind the spread of crime and its prevention
  • How restorative justice can be used in place of punishment to reconcile offenders with victims
  • How to investigate crimes

Though criminal justice is not a law degree, you should be ready to take a lot of classes about the law. You’ll learn about rights granted in the Constitution, laws surrounding how evidence can be gathered and used, and laws related to criminal procedures. Bachelor’s degrees also mandate substantial general education credits, so you will be exposed to sociology, psychology, communications, and/or statistics.

If your program offers a concentration, particularly in corrections, it’s a chance to move away from the investigatory side of things to rehabilitation theories and practices. After all, that’s mostly what parole is about.

The standard bachelor’s degree takes four years of study with annual costs varying widely. State-run public universities are generally cheaper, at least for residents, and can run as low as $2,000 per year. At the other end, private universities tend to be more expensive, charging as much as $40,000 a year. However, these are just sticker prices. Prices may go way down for some students after they apply for federal, state, and institutional financial aid.

Resources for Parole Officers

  • American Correctional Association: The ACA is a membership organization that provides networking and professional development opportunities to professionals and students.
  • American Probation and Parole Association: APPA members receive a quarterly journal, Perspectives, as well as access to webinars, online training, and in-person networking events.
  • Grits for Breakfast: This well-maintained blog linked to Just Liberty provides a deep dive into Texas’ justice system. Posts cover parole, recidivism rates, court decisions, private prisons, and abuses of power.
  • National Institute of Corrections: As the learning center for the Department of Justice, the National Institute of Corrections maintains an extensive catalog of unique professional development courses, including one on how to communicate with LGBTQ offenders.
  • Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice: The Robina Institute, part of the University of Minnesota’s law school, regularly publishes its research on parole release and revocation.
  • U.S. Parole Commission: An agency of the Department of Justice, the Parole Commission maintains a comprehensive FAQ page on the federal parole process.


How to Become a Sheriff | Education, Salary, and Career Insights

County Sheriff / Deputy Sheriff

Becoming a county sheriff or deputy sheriff can be an excellent way to serve your county, take on an expanded list of police duties, and develop an intricate understanding of laws and statutes in your county. We hope that you will examine this career possibility if you want to enter police work. Especially if you live in a rural or smaller community; this can be a good goal to have in your career.

County Sheriff Job Description

County sheriffs often serve areas that may be too small or underfunded to have their own police departments. As a result, you may travel all over the county to which you are assigned and answer calls, perform welfare checks, and keep the populace safe. Deputy sheriffs may also work around the county, but you may also work in your area jail in this position. Deputy sheriffs often take on many of the same tasks as police officers. You may spend much of your time covering a particular area and answering emergency calls.

As a sheriff, you’ll need to be flexible, quick-thinking, and able to adapt to many types of critical situations. This may also entail the ability to work long or irregular shifts. Depending on the coverage at your sheriff’s station, you may be expected to work nights, weekends, or shifts that last longer than the traditional eight hours. As city police stations deal with budget cuts many policing tasks are shifting to local sheriffs.

While your work days may be filled with many different duties, these duties may change from day to day. Specific duties may differ between stations. The Spartanburg Sheriff Office requires sheriffs to perform the following duties: patrol an assigned district, investigate and report accidents, interview witnesses and victims, apprehend and arrest law violators, serve warrants, serve as witness in courts, and more. They note that physical strength and agility are important, as you may need to use force in certain situations, pursue people on foot, and break through walls or barriers.

The investigative work of sheriffs can often lead to positive change within a community. The Indy Channel reports that the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning to parents after a man in a van tried to lure in a young child. As a sheriff, you must constantly be on the lookout for dangers such as these and always be ready to involve the public when necessary to protect citizens and uphold the law.

County Sheriff Vehicle

How to Become a County Sheriff / Deputy Sheriff

To become a county sheriff or deputy sheriff, you may need a combination of relevant education and experience. It’s likely that you’ll need to complete a law enforcement training course at a local community college or at your local police academy. To be eligible for a sheriff position, you may need to complete a specific amount of work experience as a police officer. Some areas require additional training after you accept a position; for example, you may need county-specific training that prepares you for employment in your area.

It’s clear that county sheriffs and deputy sheriffs take on a large amount of responsibility, which is why most sheriffs’ offices require intensive education for those that take on sheriff duties. They will check to see if you have the required educational credentials. At minimum, you’ll need to complete a basic law enforcement training program. Some sheriff’s offices require you to complete this training at their designated police academy, but most will accept training done at an approved technical or community college. Since some employers require a specific amount of training hours, you may want to ensure that the school you choose includes enough training.

In general, basic law enforcement training takes less than six months. For example, the program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College lasts for 18 weeks and includes 654 hours of training. These training programs can be fairly rigorous, so you may need to spend 30 to 40 hours per week in class. You can also opt to earn an associate degree in criminal justice, which can be a great option for some students. The average student completes an Associate’s degree in criminal justice in two years.

Course Requirements

Basic law enforcement training may include a variety of courses that prepare you to make traffic stops, answer different types of emergency calls, and work efficiently with people in the community. At the University of the District of Columbia, the basic law enforcement program curriculum includes legal concepts and terminology, crime scene investigation and forensics techniques, critical thinking, identifying patterns and root causes of crimes, and more.

You may also learn about crisis management, which covers a variety of situations, from working with drug-addicted individuals to domestic abuse and mental health issues. Crisis management courses may teach students how to handle different types of crises without unintentionally elevating a situation.

You will also likely take courses in security procedures, which offers an in-depth look at ensuring the security and safety of homes and commercial buildings. Classes in criminal law prepare you to work with apprehended suspects in a legal and respectful way, while firearms training covers the safe use of guns.

County Sheriff Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook is bright for those who wish to become sheriffs. Their estimates indicate an average salary of $59,560 per year for sheriffs.

However, sheriff salaries vary widely from state to state, depending on cost of living and job demand. California sheriffs often earn higher salaries; the BLS reported an average salary of $87,520 per year for California sheriffs. In Illinois, the median salary was $68,500 per year. The average 2017 Texas salary of $53,940 is slightly lower than the national average. Due to the fact that sheriffs are public employees, salary information in your area is likely publicly available.

Since sheriffs are employed by the county, they can take advantage competitive benefits packages and regular salary increases. As a county sheriff, you may get a pension and county insurance benefits. As you gain experience in the position, you may receive regularly schedules salary increases for each year of duty.

If you are ready to help protect your community as a county sheriff, contact the schools listed here to learn how you can accomplish your goal!

State Trooper | Education & Career Insights

State Trooper

Becoming a state trooper or highway patrol officer can be an excellent way to get into the criminal justice field and protect your community. Both state troopers and highway patrol officers spend most of their time enforcing traffic laws. You may be employed by a highway patrol department or state police department.

Though most of your responsibilities may center around enforcing traffic laws, responding to traffic accidents, and making routine traffic stops, your day may include a variety of other tasks. As a state trooper, you may be expected to respond to emergencies in your vicinity. This may include making reports and offering basic first aid. Those who work as highway patrol officers may have more limited duties. For example, they may be told to call for backup if they anticipate a difficult or dangerous arrest.

To learn how you can become a state trooper or highway patrol officer, contact the schools featured in our directory to compare their programs!

State Trooper Job Description

Protecting the public as a state trooper or highway patrol officer is a calling that requires a strong sense of responsibility, the ability to work independently or as part of a team when needed, and the physical strength to work long shifts. It’s unlikely for state troopers to work a standard 40-hour work week or traditional eight-hour shifts. It’s more common to work over 40 hours per week in 12-hour or 24-hour shifts. For example, the New York State Police Recruitment Center notes that their troopers work 12-hour days. You should plan on working evenings, late nights, and weekends, especially when you start out.

US News ranks patrol officer as the 12th-best social services occupation, due to its potential for upward mobility and the rewarding nature of the work. Flexibility may serve you well in this career. Though you may have a long list of job duties, you may not do the same things two days in a row. As a highway patrol officer, your main responsibilities will likely be patrolling your appointed routes, looking for dangerous drivers, and administering tickets when it is appropriate. However, you may also need to respond to emergency calls, assist in troublesome arrests, or process paperwork. In 2018, state troopers in Pennsylvania were injured while trying to apprehend a suspect after following him for miles on a high speed chase. Despite their injuries, they were able to arrest the driver.

How to Become a State Trooper

Educational requirements vary widely between states and even individual police departments. Some highway patrol departments and state police departments do not have any education requirements for applicants—they provide on-the-job training to hired personnel. However, there are also employers that require applicants to have at least two years of college experience. It may be preferable to have an Associate’s degree in criminal justice. As a state trooper, you may need to train at your area’s police academy.

Since hiring and educational requirements vary from state to state, you may wish to consult your state’s Department of Public Safety website to find out what exactly is required in your area. For example, state troopers in Texas must have at least 60 college credits from an accredited college or university. The New Hampshire Division of State Police prefers that applicants have an Associate’s degree in criminal justice or a similar field. In Texas and several other states, previous military experience or law enforcement experience can be used in place of college credits.

There are often physical health requirements for state troopers and highway patrol officers. The Kentucky State Police require applicants to pass a physical exam that includes a 1.5 mile run, a bench press, sit ups, and pushups.

After making it through the selection process, which includes an in-depth look at your education, a physical exam, and a written exam, you may be hired for a state trooper or highway patrol officer position. However, you’ll likely have to complete an intensive training period before you are sworn in as an officer. In the state of Alabama, those who are hired for these positions must attend the Alabama Criminal Justice Training Center. Before you can graduate from this center and begin your career, you must complete at least 800 hours of training.

While completing your training, you may be tested on many different skills and address several learning outcomes. Coursework often covers first aid, emergency response and management, criminal law, pursuit driving, firearms safety, and self-defense tactics. You may be expected to demonstrate growth in the areas of quick thinking, informed decision making, de-escalation of emergency situations, and physical strength. Training often lasts for eight or more hours per day to prepare you for the long shifts that may be required of you in your career.

State Trooper Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for a highway patrol officer or state trooper $61,050 per year. Salaries in your area may depend on the cost of living in your state. For example, the average salary in Texas in 2017 was $62,430 per year. You may earn more in California, where the average salary is $100,090 per year. Salaries in Illinois and New York are fairly similar; respectively, the average salaries in these states are $73,870 and $73,000 per year.

It’s important to note that patrol officers are public employees, so there may be more to your salary than your base income. You may be eligible for a raise after each year of duty, as well as a state-funded pension. Many police departments offer shift and weekend differentials, which may allow you to earn more money if you work nights and weekends. Employers may also offer an education benefit, which increases your hourly wage for each level of education you’ve completed.

The next step for you is comparing the programs in your area (or online) that can help you prepare for this law enforcement career. Use our free directory to compare multiple programs today!