More than you may think.

The probation officer is one of the most talked about legal professionals. Most people are aware that probation officers have a lot of responsibility placed upon their shoulders along with many duties. However, not many people know about the many roles that a probation officer can play in the justice system.

Probation occurs when an offender is not incarcerated but is instead placed under supervision and released into the community. Probation can also be referred to as community control. This is a way for an offender to avoid incarceration, yet still receive punishment for a crime. The length, reporting frequency, and conditions of probation are determined by a judge. A typical probation length is from 1 – 3 years, however, depending on the person and their offense, the probation period can be much longer.

When most people think of probation officers, they think of their main duty, supervising offenders in an effort to prevent the person from committing any new offenses. This task is very important and requires a lot of skill and effort. Probation officers have several resources available to achieve this. Probationers are required to report to meetings with their probation officer for the officer to get an idea of the offender’s progress or any problems with the offender. Officers can drug test offenders to ensure abstinence from drugs and alcohol when needed. Probation officers can also use technology such as ankle bracelets, SCRAM devices to monitor alcohol intake, and GPS tracking devices. Field visits and calls to relative or associates about the offender are also done in order to ensure the offender’s cooperation with the probation department. If the probationer violates any of the conditions or terms of probation, the offender will be taken back to court and charged with a probation violation. If it is determined that the offender violated probation, they run the risk of being incarcerated. On the other hand, if a probationer consistently displays good behavior, then probation might be terminated early.

The probation department, law enforcement officers, and the prosecution are also responsible for performing an investigation of the offender’s history prior to sentencing to determine the risk level to the offender themselves and others. Probation officers must have a clear understanding of a offender’s behavior patterns and risk to compile these reports.

Are you looking to become a probation officer?  In order to become a probation officer, usually a background in criminal justice, social work, or psychology is needed. This is because a probation officer also needs to help the probationer by providing access to necessary resources, and accountability. The aim is to help the offender improve their life and behavior, and, hopefully, lessen the possibility of re-offending. These resources can include anger management counseling, various forms of drug, alcohol, and mental health treatment and counseling, counseling for domestic violence offenders and other assessments and programs. In some cases, assistance to victims is also instituted by helping collect restitution from the offenders.

In Cuyahoga County, the Adult Probation Department has many departments and programs to help prevent probationers from re-offending. The probation department also deals with special populations who have specialized needs. They include the Domestic Violence department – for crimes involving an intimate partner, the Developmental Disabilities Unit Component – for individuals who are developmentally disabled, the Mental Health Unit Component – for individuals who have a diagnosis that includes psychosis, Non-Support – for individuals with felony conviction charges for non-payment of child support, and Sex Offender – for individuals who have been convicted of a felony and/or misdemeanor sex offense. The probation officers also provide specialized assessments and specialized programs to prevent as much recidivism as possible.

There are five different risk levels associated with offenders ranging from

  • Low Risk Supervision, where probationers meet with their probation officer once every six months
  • Extremely High Risk Supervision where probation lasts five years and offenders are not only required to meet weekly, but drug testing is required twice a week and field visits are also conducted weekly.

Through the diligent work of dedicated probation officers, offenders have been kept out of prisons, preventing overcrowding, and encouraging rehabilitation. Instead of incarceration, probation officers help offenders with accountability, and help offenders gain access to necessary resources, and necessary skills. They are truly one of the most important players in the legal system.


Websites Listed:

Probation Officer Education

Cuyahoga County Probation Department

Criminal Law Free Advice


About the Author: Brittaney Byers

Brittaney Byers is a current court reporting student intern at Cady Reporting. She is currently in her final speeds at Cuyahoga Community College and hoping to graduate in May 2018. Brittaney has been featured in the National Court Reporters Association’s student publication Up-To-Speed as the Student Spotlight in October 2017. After graduating, Brittaney hopes to either become a freelance court reporter taking depositions, or an official court reporter working in a courtroom. When she is not practicing or doing homework, she enjoys playing the piano and caring for her cat, Kiara.