Probation officers supervise people serving community and prison sentences.

What does a probation officer do?

Probation officers aim to protect the public and reduce crime, by:

  • reducing the risk of re-offending
  • making sure offenders carry out their punishment
  • supporting offenders in the community
  • helping offenders understand how their offences affect victims and the public

This role involves working with offenders before, during and after they are sentenced. Probation officers often work in a field team, preparing court reports and supervising offenders in the community. They may also work in other settings such as prisons or approved premises - previously known as probation hostels.

Probation officers may also:

  • interview offenders and other relevant people before sentencing
  • prepare pre-sentence reports, to help magistrates and judges decide on the most suitable sentence
  • enforce Community Orders – making sure offenders attend regular supervision appointments and take part in group programmes or unpaid community work
  • run specialist group programmes to change offenders' attitudes and behaviour
  • provide reports and risk assessments to help prisons and parole review boards decide on early release
  • work with prisoners about to be released
  • work with victims of crime

This job will involve working closely with a range of other agencies, such as the police, social services, substance misuse services and Youth Offending Teams.

What do I need to do to become a probation officer?

You’ll normally be employed as a probation services officer (PSO) before applying for a PO training position. If your application is successful, you would study for qualifications while continuing to work as a PSO.

The PO qualifying training would involve taking one of the following options:

  • an honours degree in Community Justice and the Level 5 Diploma in Probation Practice
  • the Graduate Diploma in Community Justice and Level 5 Diploma in Probation Practice (if you already have a degree in criminology, police studies, community justice or criminal justice).

You would study for these while you are working. The first option can take between three and five years to complete. The second takes around 15 months and you would work as a probation services officer as part of your training.

Whatever route you take, experience of working with the criminal justice system and vulnerable groups may give you an advantage.

The National Probation Service is in the process of developing a new qualification route that will be introduced in 2016.

Related skills

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Literacy
  • Organisation
  • Problem solving

Essential qualifications

  • Level 5 Diploma in Probation Practice
  • Honours degree in community justice or Graduate Diploma in Community Justice (if you already have a degree in criminology, police studies, community justice or criminal justice)

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

You would have an office base but also spend a lot of your time travelling around your local area to attend community programmes, group sessions, prisons and court. 

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

Related jobs

Job families