Parole officers are state employees who are responsible for monitoring recently released criminal offenders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, positions within probation and parole departments are expected to grow 18 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is about as fast as average. Some states combine the roles of probation and parole officer, while others maintain two distinct offices. As of 2012, 16 states have abolished the parole board or have greatly diminished its power.
Parole status refers to a period of conditional release following the completion of a prison sentence. Offenders are given a set of guidelines they must follow while on parole or risk returning to prison. A parole officer monitors the offender to ensure that he is following each condition of release. The officer may perform random drug testing, monitor employment history and performance, meet weekly or bimonthly with the offender and his family, and present evidence to the judge in the event a condition is broken. Parole officers also must submit regular reports to the judge about the parolee's progress during the conditioned release.
Parole vs. Probation:
The BLS defines parole officers as a type of probation officer tasked with monitoring offenders who have served a complete jail sentence followed by a conditioned release. A traditional probation officer serves a slightly different role; he monitors offenders who have received a sentence of probation in lieu of incarceration. Like parole, probation sentences come with a list of conditions and guidelines. Violations of probation conditions will result in the offender serving the remainder of his sentence behind bars.
According to the BLS, mandatory sentencing guidelines imposed in the 1990s resulted in a reduced need for parole officers as offenders were less likely to be conditionally released. These mandatory sentences are being reconsidered because of prison overcrowding and budgetary restraints. Consequently, the need for parole officers is expected to grow as judges have more flexibility with each case. While community supervision is far less expensive than incarceration, changes in parole and imprisonment standards could result in more imprisonment and fewer opportunities for parole.
According to the BLS, the median wage for probation and correctional treatment specialists is $47,200 per year, or $22.69 per hour. The lowest 10 percent of officers earn $30,920 a year, while the highest 10 percent earn more than $80,750 a year. The highest-paid officers are those employed by state governments. California pays the highest mean salary, topping $77,230 a year, followed by Connecticut and New Jersey, paying $73,180 and $68,870 a year, respectively. Parole officers are often required to work outside normal business hours, especially in the event a parolee commits another crime or breaks a condition of release. Many agencies require parole officers to be available overnight.
The minimum education requirements to become a parole officer vary from state to state, but most agencies require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Many parole officers major in criminology or a related field. Some states will consider a candidate with a high school diploma and significant experience. A number of states require officer certification prior to becoming a parole officer.