Parole officers identify and supervise offenders who are eligible for conditional release from prison before they have completed their sentences. To merit parole, prisoners must obey prison rules, perform prison jobs well, and show progress in rehabilitation and therapy programs.
Some parole officers work inside correctional institutions, preparing reports for parole boards. They assess prisoners' lives before and during incarceration; how prisoners' families will affect their rehabilitation; and what job prospects prisoners might have if released. Based on the officers' reports and interviews with the prisoners and their families, the boards choose certain prisoners for release.
Field officers work with parolees once they have returned to their communities. They help parolees find jobs, schools, or therapy programs. For instance, former drug addicts may have to enroll in programs that help them stay off drugs. If parolees have financial problems, officers direct them to community agencies that can provide welfare benefits and other financial support. Some officers supervise halfway houses in which small groups of parolees live together to share experiences and lend each other support. Drug therapists, psychiatrists, and social workers often help with this supervision.
Parole officers visit their clients regularly to evaluate their progress. If parolees break the rules—by violating the law, for example, or by associating with bad company—officers may recommend that parole be revoked. Parole boards may send the parolees back to prison.
Parole officers work independently, advising and evaluating parolees and finding jobs for them. The work can be stressful, for they are under pressure at all times to present parole and parolees positively to their communities. Caseloads may be heavy. Officers often work more than forty hours per week, sometimes making night or weekend appointments with parolees who work.
Job seekers can contact federal, state, or county parole boards directly. They should take federal or state civil service tests, if necessary. Those who do fieldwork for college courses in social work may make contacts who can help them find jobs after graduation. College placement offices may have employment listings.
Bachelor's degrees in sociology, psychology, criminology, or correctional science are preferred. In addition, many agencies, including the U.S. Board of Parole, require one or two years of work experience in correctional institutions or other social agencies or master's degrees in sociology or psychology.
Applicants must take written, oral, psychological, and physical examinations. In most states, parole officers must pass training programs and certification tests.
Qualified parole officers may advance to work as administrators, department heads, and directors of special projects or units.
Employment of parole officers is expected to grow as fast as the average for all jobs through 2014. Mandatory sentencing guidelines, which called for longer prison terms and fewer opportunities for parole, are being reconsidered in many states because of budgetary constraints and court decisions. If additional prisoners gain early release, more parole officers may be needed to supervise them. Jobs for parole officers should also open up as experienced workers retire or leave the field.
Earnings vary, depending on location and experience. In 2004 the median salary for all parole officers was $39,600 per year. The lowest ten percent earned less than $26,310 per year, and the highest ten percent earned more than $66,660 per year. Supervisors and directors often earned much more.
Most parole officers receive paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.