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Probation officer: Job description

Probation officers manage offenders in order to protect the public and reduce the incidence of reoffending. They work with offenders in custody, those released from prison on licence and those serving community-based sentences.

Probation officers interact with offenders, victims, police and prison service colleagues on a regular basis. They work closely with relevant statutory and voluntary agencies. They may also manage approved residential premises for offenders and ex-prisoners.

In addition, probation officers manage and enforce the conditions of community orders. Community orders are an alternative to a prison sentence. Offenders are required to engage in components such as community payback (unpaid work), offending behaviour programmes and alcohol or drug rehabilitation activities.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate criminal justice systems and different arrangements for the provision of probation services. For further information see:

Typical work activities

Work activities may vary depending on whether you work for the National Probation Service (NPS) , a statutory criminal justice service that supervises high-risk offenders released into the community, or one of the 21 private sector community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) that manage low and medium-risk offenders.

However, activities will typically involve:

  • working with high and medium-risk offenders including dangerous and prolific offenders;
  • providing pre-sentence reports for magistrates' courts and the Crown Court on people charged with an offence, which help magistrates and judges to decide what sentence should be passed;
  • protecting the public by collaborating with other agencies to ensure that Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) are effective; 
  • carrying out risk assessments in order to protect the public from further possible offending;
  • managing and enforcing community orders made by the courts, which may involve offenders' participation in accredited offending behaviour programmes (usually run by specially trained probation officers), ensuring offenders attend supervision with a probation officer, and/or ensuring offenders undertake unpaid work that benefits the community (if offenders do not cooperate, the probation officer will arrange their return to court for a further punishment);
  • delivering accredited offending behaviour programmes to change offenders' attitudes and behaviour in order to help reduce further offending;
  • providing specialist reports to prison governors and parole review boards that help determine whether a prisoner should be released and, if so, under what conditions, e.g. curfew/tagging order or probation supervision;
  • undertaking meticulous record keeping and review processes;
  • working with prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more in custody during and after their sentence, helping them to reintegrate into the community;
  • liaising with victims of serious crime, e.g. violence or sex offences, to keep them informed about a prisoner's progress in prison;
  • gathering feedback from the victim(s) about the impact of the offence and any fears and concerns about the proposed release of the prisoner;
  • working with other agencies to help local crime reduction and community safety, e.g. police, local authorities, courts, health services, substance misuse services, voluntary agencies and youth offending teams;
  • managing approved premises (formerly called hostels), which provide accommodation for people on bail or probation or offenders on parole;
  • attending court, sometimes to testify about written recommendations in reports.
Written by Pauline Tait, University of Lincoln
November 2013

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