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Probation Officer's badge from the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania

Probation officers and parole officers function as agents or officers of the courts.

Probation and Parole in the United States

In the United States, there can be probation officers in the city, county, state or federal level - wherever there is a court of competent jurisdiction. Probation Officers, depending on the jurisdiction, may or may not also be Parole Officers. Since the abolishment of parole in the federal system in 1984, there are essentially no parole officers on the federal level in the United States. However, there is a small and decreasing number of parolees still being supervised that were sentenced before 1984, or court-martialed military service personnel and U.S. Probation Officers serve as parole officers in that capacity. Most jurisdictions require officers to have a four year college degree, and prefer a graduate level degree for full consideration for probation officer positions on the federal level.

Generally, Probation Officers investigate and supervise defendants who have not yet been sentenced to a term of incarceration. Transversely, Parole Officers supervise offenders released from incarceration after a review and consideration of a Warden, Parole Board or other parole authority. Parolees are essentially serving the remainder of their incarceration sentence in the community due to the excellent adjustment and behavior while an inmate. However, some jurisdictions are modifying or abolishing the practice of parole and giving post-release supervision obligations to a community corrections agent, generically referred to as a Probation Officer. Typically, probation and parole officers do not wear a uniform, but simply dress in business or casual attire. Probation officers are usually issued a badge/credentials and, in many cases, may carry concealed weapons and pepper spray for self protection or serving arrest warrants. Parole Officers, in many jurisdictions, are also issued a badge and firearm and often have full police powers. Probation/Parole officers with law enforcement powers, technically classified as peace officers, must attend a police academy as part of their training and certification.

Probation Agencies have a loosely based paramilitary command structure and are usually headed by a Chief Probation Officer or Director. The chain-of-command usually flows to Deputy Chief or Assistant Director, then to Supervisor or Senior Probation Officer, then to the line probation officer. Some Parole and Probation Officers supervise general caseloads with offenders who are convicted of a variety of offenses. Others hold specialist positions, and work with specific groups of offenders such as Sex Offenders, offenders sentenced to electronic monitoring (house arrest) or GPS Monitoring, cases with severe mental health, substance abuse, and violent histories.

A probation officer can perform any function assigned to him or her by the court. However, their usual mandate is to supervise offenders placed on supervision, and to investigate offender's personal and criminal history for the Court prior to sentencing. Probation and parole officers are required to possess excellent oral and written communication skills and a broad knowledge of the criminal justice system and the roles, relationships, and responsibilities distributed among the courts, the parole authority the Bureau of Prisons or Department of Corrections and/or local jails, police, substance abuse counseling and social services agencies, applicable case law, sentencing guidelines (if applicable) and the prosecutor. Additionally, they must have an ability to work with an extremely diverse population and wide variety of government agencies and community organizations and accept the potential hazards of working closely with a criminal population.

In various states and localities, Probation Departments have a specialized officer position known as the Surveillance Officer. These officers have full Probation Officer authority, are peace officers, with arrest authority, and are badged and often armed. The purpose of a Surveillance Officer is generally to serve as the eyes and ears of a probation team on specialized caseloads, performing mostly field work, including random home and work visits, overt and covert surveillance, and performing arrests and searches; whereas the Probation Officer does much of his/her work in the office. Surveillance Officers usually attend the same training academy and generally only require a two-year degree or high school diploma with Public Safety experience.

Pre-Sentence Investigation

Main article: Presentence Investigation

Probation Officers who prepare presentence reports must be especially skilled in gathering, organizing, and analyzing information. In the report and accompanying sentencing recommendation, the probation officer must assess the probability of risk to the community in the form of future criminal behavior, the harm the offense caused and the need for restitution, any profit the defendant received from the crime, and the defendant's ability to pay sanctions such as a fine, restitution or cost. The officer must identify the defendant's need for treatment to correct characteristics, conditions, or behavioral patterns that limit motivation or ability to obey the law and must assess the availability and suitability of rehabilitative programs. The preparation of presentence reports is critical not only to the individual offender and those directly affected by the offense, but to the systematic administration of criminal justice.

In the U.S, pursant to the Privacy Act of 1974, a copy of the Presentence Report must be provided to each offender, or their counsel, before sentencing and, depending on the jurisdiction, must provide both counsels with a copy of the sentencing guidelines (if applicable) and be able to explain the calculations, resolve disagreements and noted objections to the Court. After sentencing, the presentence writer should provide the offender with a written explanation of his or her conditions of supervision. In addition, the probation officer should forward a copy of the Presentence Report to the incarcaration agency to be used in classificaiton of the inmate to ensure proper placement of the inmate and a better utilization of prison programs and resources.

Probation and Parole Officers in England and Wales

The National Probation Service is charged with supervising offenders and compiling relevant data regarding offender supervision and its modern form was set out in April 2001 by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act. However, it has existed since 1907 The Probation of Offenders Act but the practice of placing offenders on probation was routinely undertaken in the London Police Courts by voluntary organisations such as the London Police Court Mission later known as the Rainer Foundation as early as 1876. These earlier probation services provided the inspiration for similar ideas in the humane treatment and supervision of offenders throughout the British Empire and also in former colonies of Britain as missionaries and members of the British criminal justice system travelled the globe.

In modern times the duties of probation officers mirror the duties of their US counterparts with some notable exceptions. Probation officers make regular recommendations to sentencers regarding an offender's progress and potential to contribute to the community after release although recent legislation creating new orders such as the Drug Treatment and Testing Order have introduced U.S. style reporting to the English Courts for the first time. Additionally, probation officers will supervise a Restorative Justice plan that provides the victim of a crime an opportunity to address the impact of the crime to the offenders. In England and Wales some attempts have been made to follow the United States and Canada style corrections services but this has sometimes led to poor or inappropriate implementation of politically expedient ideas for changes in the supervision of offenders that do not fit easily with the stable and somewhat conservative criminal justice System in England and Wales.

Probation and Parole Officers in Australia

Probation and Parole Officers in Australia serve an active role in recommending community based supervision to Magistrates/Judges. They also make recommendations to Parole Boards to determine whether a prisoner should be granted parole. Probation Officers are expected to not only supervise an offender while he/she performs community service, but to also develop the community service plans themselves.

Probation in Malta

Malta has its very own Probation Services that form part of the Department of Correctional Services within the Ministry of Justice & Home Affairs. The Probation Services has been in existence since 1957 and the first ever Probation Order was granted in 1961. There is no Parole as yet in Malta, however this has become a favourite topic of discussion with some local politicians. The Maltese Probation Services gives services both at the pre sentencing and post sentencing stages in accordance to the Probation Act (Chap. 446, Laws of Malta). Services include Probation Order, Suspended Sentence Supervision Order, Community Service Order, Combination Order, Provisional Order of Supervision, Pre Sentencing Report, & Social Inquiry Report.

Parole Officers in Canada

Parole Officers in Canada play a critical role at both the institutional and community environment. Their primary function is to assess risk and manage the intervention process with offenders throughout their sentence. They are the first line of defense when administering the Correctional Services Canada's obligations towards public safety.

Once the offender has entered the Federal Correctional system, Parole Officers assess the needs of offenders such as programming and security risks are identified and subsequently matched with selected institutional services such as programs. This includes identifying the factors contributing to criminal behaviour, develop intervention plans to address them, and help offenders undertake and complete those intervention plans.

At the institutional level, Parole Officers make recommendations concerning offender transfers, temporary absences, and other forms of conditional release, including parole release as part of reintegrating offenders into society. Parole Officers work as part of a team, which includes the offender, Correctional Officer, Community Parole Officer, Psychologist, and Programs Officer.

Within the community, Parole Officers supervise and support offenders who have been granted conditional release and work as part of a team that include Psychologists, Halfway House staff and Police agencies. Parole Officers must be flexible while yet enforcing strict controls such as release conditions.

In the community, Parole Officers ensure public safety by making scheduled or unscheduled visits with offenders, and communicating with family, police, employers as well as other persons who may be assisting the offender. Other duties include writing progress reports and working with many community agencies to help secure stable housing, employment and income.

Parole Officers respond to the numerous challenges associated with managing Canada's most dangerous men/women as well as assisting in the day to day managing of correctional institutions. Yet, the complexity, responsibility, intellectual effort and demands required of their work is not properly recognized, nor adequately compensated.

Studies conducted by the Correctional Service of Canada and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) paint the picture of a profession in crisis.

If the development, recruitment and retention problems facing the group are not addressed, the federal government may find itself increasingly incapable of administering its obligation towards public safety. This includes safe release planning, effective interventions for offenders often in crisis, sound risk assessment practices, legal obligations to numerous other departments and the daily administrative tasks needed to manage a complex caseload.

Institutions and Community Parole Offices are reporting that they are having a hard time recruiting and even harder time retaining Parole Officers. All of this is causing significant strain on current Parole Officers resulting in increased stress, burnout, sick leave and severe morale problems.

The following issues have been identified:

Classification - A proper classification needs to adequately capture the scope, complexity and dangerous work of the Parole Officer position.

Professional Profile – The training and apprenticeship process for the Parole Officer group needs to be truly recognized as a process towards professional certification. Comprehensive training (extensive risk courses plus on-the-job experience) is needed in order to fully qualify as a Parole Officer.

Career Advancement and Retention – Improved career pathing to develop the next generation of Parole Officers. A national retention strategy is required to ensure that there is a next generation of Parole Officers. Retaining experienced Parole Officers and being able to recruit new members are key actions for the federal government to ensure efficient operations now and into the future.

Workload - Current community frequency of contact practices and the practice of the Correctional Services Canada routinely assigning in excess of 22 offenders per Parole Officer institutionally can be linked to the erosion of Public Safety.

Parole Officers are professionals. They are currently developing the following mission statement with Correctional Services Canada:

"Parole Officers, as clinical professionals and Peace Officers, contribute to the safety and security of all persons through the continual assessment and management of offender risk, by implementing and recommending interventions and controls, and by reporting progress in support of decision making with the goal of safely reintegrating the offender to the community. Integral to the success of a Parole Officer, as the case manager, is the development and maintenance of meaningful and professional relationships with offenders, correctional partners and other members of the multi-disciplinary team."

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