How to Become a Probation Officer

Updated 2 May 2023

Probation officers help integrate people with a criminal past back into their community. Becoming a probation officer requires a lot of community involvement and general interest in the rehabilitation system for criminal offenders. Understanding the everyday tasks of a probation officer can help you decide if this is the profession for you. In this article, we'll discuss exactly what a probation officer is, describe how to become a probation officer and explain what skills required to excel in this position.

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What is a probation officer?

A probation officer is a law enforcement professional who supervises offenders that are recently released from prison. Probation officers give these offenders the support and techniques needed to prevent them from committing future criminal acts. Probation is the time a person is under supervision to complete their sentence instead of or after time served in prison. A probation officer manages these offenders to maintain public safety and tries to help these offenders make better life choices. Probation officers work closely with police, offenders and the community agencies that help offenders find a new residence and job.

How to become a probation officer

Applicants for the position of probation officer must have a good foundation of knowledge about how the criminal justice and rehabilitation system works. Along with this background knowledge, there are four main paths to this career. Learn how to become a probation officer:

1. Attend university

One way to become a probation officer is by attending university and completing a higher national diploma or foundation degree in an area related to criminal justice and rehabilitation. Some acceptable degrees include criminology and psychology. You can check with The HM Prison & Probation Service to see what other degrees they accept.

To attend university, you'll need one or two A levels if you want to receive a higher national diploma or foundation degree. Once you complete the university requirements, you can apply for the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) training programme. The PQiP is a full time, paid training course that combines workshops and seminars and hands-on experience with offenders. For those who attended university, the training programme takes 15 months to complete.

2. Complete an apprenticeship

Another way to become a probation officer is by completing an apprenticeship. During the apprenticeship, you can get both theoretical learning and real-life experience, after which, you can apply for a probation officer position. An apprenticeship requires you to need four or five GCSEs.

Related: How much does a prison officer make? (and how to earn more)

3. Work towards the role

You can also start in a role similar to a probation officer, like a probation services officer (PSO), and work your way towards the role of a probation officer. A probation services officer supervises people serving community and prison sentences who are low-risk offenders. Usually, after a few years of gaining relevant experience as a PSO, you can complete the PQiP training programme and then become a probation officer.

4. Apply directly

If you have a level five qualification, you may apply for a probation officer position in certain cities. The HM Prison & Probation Service must approve one of the following qualifications:

  • Diploma of higher education (DipHE)

  • Foundation degree

  • Higher National Diploma (HND)

  • Level 5 award

  • Level 5 certificate

  • Level 5 diploma

  • Level 5 NVQ

If you apply for a probation officer position with no previous experience, it helps to have some volunteer experience working with vulnerable people or people with challenging behaviours. Check out organisations like Do IT and NCVO for potential volunteer opportunities. It's also a good idea to check out the latest news and opportunities at the Probation Institute.

Related: Higher Apprenticeships: Everything You Need to Know

What does a probation officer do?

A probation officer's primary job is to supervise an individual who the court has sentenced to serve probation for a crime. Sometimes an offender will serve probation instead of serving time in prison. At other times courts require probation for offenders after prison. Probation time for offenders varies depending on the crime.

Some of the most common responsibilities of a probation officer include:

  • Working with offenders before the courts release them back into the community

  • Working with potentially high-risk and often dangerous offenders

  • Preparing pre-sentence reports that help the judge decide on the most suitable sentence

  • Making sure offenders attend appointments, job interviews and any meeting that helps them integrate back into society

  • Leading and creating programmes that help change an offender's behaviour

  • Helping offenders understand how their offences affect victims and the community

  • Overseeing compliance with the probation order by conducting drug tests, making home visits and interviewing employers.

  • Collaborating with other social services agencies to support offenders as they transition back into society after completing their sentences

Necessary skills for a probation officer

Probation officers work with many people from various backgrounds. Skills that make probation officers effective in their roles include:

Interpersonal communication

Interpersonal communication is the ability to communicate with different people through verbal and nonverbal means. Probation officers explain to their clients the details of their probation, often adjusting their communication style and body language to make sure probationers understand them and feel as comfortable as possible with them. They also must be able to collaborate and communicate with other law enforcement agents and social workers to provide support to their clients. A probation officer judges a situation and decides the best style of communication that helps them express themselves in the clearest way possible.

Related: Interpersonal Communication: Definition and Examples

Knowledge of psychology

Probation officers must have a basic understanding of psychology. When communicating with offenders, it's important for probation officers to understand the psychology behind the crime the offender has committed. A probation officer has empathy to better understand what the offender is experiencing, how best to help them and how their release may affect the community. A probation officer uses counselling skills to offer offenders helpful advice that they can use to re-enter society.


Organisational skills are extremely important as probation officer often oversee several clients at once. Organisational tasks may include setting up appointments with offenders, helping offenders arrange interviews with potential employers and writing and submitting parole reports. It's also important to keep updated files on relevant community resources available to offenders. Understanding how to manage time and prioritise tasks is key to being an effective probation officer.

Related: What Are Organisational Skills? (Types and Examples)


Probation officers have compassion for the offenders they work with. Probation officers work with convicted criminals, and some of these people are repeat offenders. It's important that probation officers act with compassion and understanding. They must be ready and willing to help offenders re-enter the community and offer help whenever necessary.

Decision making

While a probation officer offers counselling and advice to the offenders they work with, they must also make decisions on behalf of these offenders. Offenders need a probation officer's help and advice regarding treatment, future employment and housing. Probation officers must be able to commit to a course of action that they feel is best for the offender they are working with, even if sometimes the offender disagrees. Also, a probation officer must be able to admit when they are wrong if a certain decision they made did not create the results they were looking for.


Probation officers work with people who are integrating back into society, so developing soft skills like problem-solving helps them make informed decisions and find the most appropriate solutions that comply with probation requirements or guidelines. Also, probation officers that employ effective problem-solving skills can then teach these skills to the offenders they are working with. Teaching problem solving and critical thinking skills to offenders can help them better understand the consequences of their actions and how they affect their community.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Flexible and open to change

A probation officer's daily tasks can vary. One day might be a day of writing and submitting reports, the next could be meeting an offender and their family. Probation officers prepare for this variety and even change their schedule based on the schedule of the courts and the offenders. Probation officers work with multiple offenders, courts and community services so they expect their schedules to change based on these other factors.

Average salary of a probation officer

The average salary for a probation officer is £23.96 per hour. Salaries range from £22,250 to £40,000 per year, depending on experience. Salaries may vary from city to city or increase with additional education and training. Employment may also include benefits packages that have a civil service pension, life insurance or retirement plans. Probation officers usually work between 36 and 38 hours a week and may have to work evenings and weekends.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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