If you enjoy a challenge, can think on your feet and want to help people make better choices with their lives, consider a career as a probation officer
As a probation officer, you'll manage offenders in order to protect the public and reduce the incidence of reoffending. You'll work with offenders in courts, in the community and in custody to make communities safer.
Probation officers interact with offenders, victims, police and prison service colleagues on a regular basis. You'll work closely with relevant statutory and voluntary agencies and may also manage approved residential premises for offenders and ex-prisoners. In addition, you'll also manage and enforce the conditions of community orders, which are an alternative to a prison sentence.
Probation officers work only in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate criminal justice systems and different arrangements for the provision of probation services. For further information, see:
Tasks will vary depending on whether you work for the National Probation Service (NPS), part of Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) which 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, you'll typically need to:
- manage high-risk offenders, including dangerous and prolific offenders (if working for the NPS) or medium and low-risk offenders (if working for a CRC)
- provide pre-sentence reports for courts on people charged with an offence, helping them to decide what sentence should be passed
- protect the public by collaborating effectively with other agencies in the criminal justice system, such as the police, local authorities, courts, health services, substance misuse services, voluntary agencies and youth offending teams
- carry out risk assessments and reviews on offenders in order to protect the public from further possible offending
- manage and enforce community orders made by the courts
- motivate offenders to change their attitudes and behaviour in order to help reduce further offending
- provide specialist reports to prison governors and parole review boards that help determine whether a prisoner should be released and, if so, under what conditions
- work with prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more in custody during and after their sentence, helping them to reintegrate into the community
- work with victims of violent or sexual crime to ensure their well-being and to make sure that their voices are heard
- manage approved premises, which provide accommodation for people on bail or probation or offenders on parole
- attend court, sometimes to testify about written recommendations in reports.
- Entrants to the profession start as probation service officers (PSOs). The salary range for PSOs is £22,039 to £27,373 on the NPS Pay Band 3.
- Salaries for qualified probation officers range from £29,038 to £36,084 (Band 4).
- Senior probation officers with relevant skills, experience and qualifications can earn between £35,024 and £39,818 (Band 5).
- Salaries for experienced managers can rise to in excess of £50,000.
A London weighting allowance is added to salaries where applicable.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
You'll typically work a standard, 37-hour week, although you may occasionally need to work outside of normal office hours.
Holiday entitlement for probation officers in the NPS starts at 25 days per year plus public holidays.
What to expect
- You may be office based, but will travel locally during the working day. You may also visit clients in their homes.
- You may be based in courts, in prisons or managing approved premises, which provide residential accommodation for offenders and ex-offenders.
- Self-employment is not an option. However, PSOs and qualified probation officers can obtain temporary or sessional work.
- Family friendly policies and practices are widely available, such as paid maternity and paternity leave and flexible working practices. Part-time work and job-share opportunities are available.
- There are currently more women than men working in probation in all grades other than management, where the gender split is roughly equal.
To qualify as a probation officer, you'll need to successfully complete probation officer training via the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP).
In order to apply, you'll need:
- relevant experience of working with challenging behaviour
- a recognised qualification at QCF Level 5 or above (for example an honours degree, HND, foundation degree, diploma of higher education or higher apprenticeship)
- prior knowledge and understanding in four required knowledge modules: the criminal justice system, crime and criminal behaviour, penal policy and punishment, and the rehabilitation of offenders.
If your degree covers three of the four knowledge modules, you can currently apply and take the outstanding module during the first part of your training. If, however, your degree doesn't cover the four knowledge modules, you'll need to complete them via distance learning before applying.
Recruitment on to the PQiP takes place twice a year (late spring and autumn) and there are various stages to the process, including a written application and an assessment centre.
The 15-month training programme includes study for the Level 6 PQiP qualification, integrated with a Level 5 vocational qualification in Probation Practice and supervised work experience covering high-risk offenders.
For more information, see HM Prison & Probation Service's Train to be a Probation Officer.
In Scotland, criminal justice social workers carry out the work done by probation officers in England and you'll need an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in social work approved by the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).
In Northern Ireland, probation officers are qualified social workers employed by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI). You'll need to have some experience working with offenders and should apply through UCAS for a degree in social work. See the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) for more information.
You'll need to have:
- excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to others
- the ability to persuade and influence others
- teamwork and collaboration skills
- a caring attitude
- case work and report-writing skills
- planning and organisational skills
- effective decision-making skills and problem-solving ability
- motivation and commitment
- good judgement and the ability to think on your feet
- an understanding and appreciation of equal opportunities and anti-discriminatory practice.
You should also have knowledge and understanding of the work of the criminal justice system and the probation service.
You'll need experience of working with challenging behaviour, which you can get through either paid or voluntary work in a range of settings, including:
- approved premises
- prison visiting services
- victim support services
- youth offending teams
- community payback teams
- outside of the community justice system.
The quality of the experience is more important than the quantity.
In England and Wales, most probation officers are employed by the NPS, which forms part of HMPPS, the executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. The NPS works with every part of the criminal justice sector to support the rehabilitation of offenders, while at the same time protecting the public.
There are also opportunities with the 21 private sector CRCs that manage low and medium-risk offenders and who largely employ PSOs.
In Scotland, local authority social work departments have responsibility for probation work (known as criminal justice social work). In Northern Ireland, probation work is carried out by PBNI.
Look for probation officer opportunities at:
- Civil Service Job Search
- Community Care Jobs - for vacancies with youth offending teams
- HM Prison and Probation Service
- Train to be a Probation Officer - for probation officer training opportunities
- Work with Offenders
Once qualified, you'll be supported by the National Offender Management Service's human resources learning and development team, which delivers professional skills training for the NPS. In addition, you'll have access to Civil Service Learning, which provides a range of courses and resources for developing skills common to all UK civil servants.
The 21 CRCs are responsible for the training and development of their probation staff, and training opportunities will vary depending on the company.
With experience and relevant training, you may be able to specialise in a particular area of probation work, such as working with sex offenders or working in court.
Some probation officers take advantage of secondments to spend time working for other agencies, such as in youth offending teams or prisons. You can also train to become a manager.
With several years' experience you can apply for promotion to the role of senior probation officer. Senior probation officers manage a team of probation officers and are responsible for their performance. You may also be involved in risk management, meeting targets and working with other agencies such as the police and prison service.
Promotion beyond main grade depends on your experience and ability and often involves moving to a managerial level, rather than working with offenders. Probation area managers are responsible for the probation service in a designated area and for a team of senior probation officers. They have little or no contact with offenders and are typically involved in the management of risk to the public.
There are, however, opportunities to move sideways and to specialise in different areas of probation work, such as:
- management of approved premises - providing accommodation for people on bail, people on probation who have problems such as alcoholism or drug addiction, or offenders released on licence from prison pending the end of their sentence
- prison work - working alongside prison officers and management to help prisoners return to society, often in offender management units
- approved programme units - working alongside colleagues in other professions offering interactive group work for serving offenders
- specialist case management teams - working in areas such as drug treatment and testing orders, public protection or sex offending.
Experienced probation officers can also work as accredited programme tutors and practice development assessors, supervising trainees.