A Career in Juvenile Justice: Juvenile Probation Officer

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Lieutenant-General Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell, a British Army officer and writer once stated, “Juvenile crime is not naturally born in the boy but is largely due either to the spirit of adventure that is in him, to his own stupidity, or to his lack of discipline, according to the nature of the individual.” Currently, I am employed as a State Trooper with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and will have served in the capacity of law enforcement for ten (10) years in upcoming March 2019. However, if I were to choose a career in juvenile justice that interest me, I would choose the position of a Juvenile Probation Officer. In the following, I will examine the qualifications and what it takes to be a Juvenile Probation Officer, the history, benefits and criticism of probation, and the roles and responsibilities of a Juvenile Probation Officer.

Probation is defined as “a correctional service allowing an offender to remain in the community under supervision by an officer of the court. The probation officer assists offenders in their efforts to meet the conditions of the court (Bartollas & Miller, 2017, p. 166).” For one to become a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO), they must meet certain qualifications. The minimum age for a person to be considered is usually twenty-one (21) years old. Some steps may include: (1) obtaining a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in criminal justice or a field related such as sociology; (2) apply for a job as a JPO; (3) complete and pass a drug test and criminal background check; (4) some states may require individuals to complete a state training program and pass a certification exam. “The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median pay for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is $49,360 per year. Individual salary depends on the location of the position, the types of cases processed, and the individual’s education and experience levels. For all probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, the BLS expects an employment increase of 4% for the decade from 2014 to 2024.”

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When it comes to any organization or career, there is always a rich history that surrounds the topic at hand. In the United States, John Augustus is considered to be the father of probation. In 1841, Augustus took on his first probation client whom had an issue with drinking. “Augustus worked with women and children as well as with male offenders; in fact, he was willing to work with all types of offenders—drunkards, petty thieves, prostitutes, and felons—as long as he met a contrite heart. Augustus instigated such services as investigation and screening, supervision of probationers, interviewing, and arranging for relief, employment, and education—all of which are still provided today (Bartollas & Miller, 2017, p. 10).” The implementation of the parole system in the United States was done by Zebulon Brockway. Brockway used a two-part system. This system was managing the prison population and preparing the prisoners for release. He put this practice to work in 1876, after his appointment as superintendent of a youth reformatory.

Once youth were admitted to the reformatory, they were placed into a classification. This classification was termed “second grade”. In order to get to “first grade” an inmate had to have six months of good behavior If the inmate misbehaved, they were sent to “third grade”, from this grade the inmate would have to work his way back up. Once an inmate maintained good behavior at the first-grade level, they were released. However, this release did not get them out of the system. Now the inmate had to report to a jurisdiction of authorities for six months. The report was done on the first day of the month. This report was made to a volunteer guardian, this is where parole officers came from. Reporting to the parole officer, the parolee had to provide accountings of his situation and conduct. The first state to adopt a parole system was New York in 1907. By 1927, there only three states that had not instituted a parole system, they were Florida, Mississippi, and Virginia.

Today, the use of probation is the most common form of sentencing in the criminal justice system. The probationer is placed under the supervision and care of probation staff. As long as the probationer maintains certain standards of contact, they can remain “free”. A violation of probation can lead to imprisonment. In 1995 over three million adults were on probation. Even though probation is widely used is comes under much criticism. The criticism comes from the idea that it is soft on crime, cares little for the victims and ignores the predatory criminals. Public image of probation is poor and misunderstood. The other issue that face probation is the lack of funding, this lack of funding often leads to not enough supervision of the probationer. In more urban areas those on probation are often assigned to a probation officer that is handling a case load of a hundred plus cases. In this situation offenders can often complete their probation without completing specified requirements; court fees can go unpaid and as long as the offender is not arrested, they can “sail” through the system. The issue with this is that it makes a mockery of the system. It is not necessarily the system that is fault but how it is managed.

Some benefits to probation are that it costs less than imprisonment, increases chances for rehabilitation and reduces the risk of criminal socialization. The downfall to probation as it stands in today’s world is when an offender violates probation the overcrowding in jail, where do you put the probation violator. This leads to how probation can be changed for the future. Some changes to the probation system would make it more acceptable to the public. Those changes would be greater judicial involvement, increased funding, making rehabilitation services more easily accessible and using electronic monitoring devices instead of imprisonment for probation violators.

Getting judges more involved in probation holds them more accountable for their sentencing option. Judges can impose the probation sentences on an individual basis. One example comes from a Texas judge who chose to sentence a child molester to probation. The terms of the probation were that the offender, who was a music instructor had to sell his piano, that was worth $12,000, barred him from being able to purchase any other piano until the end of his probation and the offender had to post a sign on his front door that warned children to stay away. The benefit to this is that offenders are less likely to break their probation. The down side is that it adds more to the judges’ workload and often their court calendars are overbooked.

By increasing funding for probation, there would be an increase in probation officers to monitor the offenders. This funding would also be used to make sure that rehabilitation services are available. For example, if the offenders’ offense was drugs then he or she could be put into a drug rehab to conquer the addiction. By conquering the addiction there is less chance of recidivism. The use of an electronic monitoring device if an offender violates his or her probation, instead of imprisonment is another option to make probation better. The use of an electronic device would allow the offender to have restrictions placed on their person, such as only being able to go a certain distance from the base; the base would be placed in a central location in the home. These changes to the probation system would make it look better in the public image.

One of the major things about probation is that the probationer must report to a probation officer and allow the probation officer to visit him at his place of residence or elsewhere as specified by the court. The probationer must answer questions asked by the probation officer and he must notify the probation officer immediately if there are any changes in address or employment. Whenever a probationer has been arrested or questioned by a law enforcement officer the probationer must notify the probation officer promptly because this may show that the probationer has broken the probation and may have to go back to court for a new sentence.

A probation officer does far more than merely supervise a caseload of probationers. In addition to providing counseling, employment assistance, and other related services, a probation officer must be an investigator and a diagnostician of the needs of the probationer and must be able to develop, coordinate, and implement the special casework services needed. Probationary supervision means a great deal more than mere surveillance of the defendant by the officer. It consists principally of a helping relationship between officer and probationer through which casework and counseling change the probationer’s attitudes and strengthens his ability and desire to remain law-abiding and responsible. It includes information, gained through observation and interview that will help the court become aware of violations by the probationer. The probation officer meets with the probationer periodically to keep up with charges and make sure the probationer has not broken his probation.

Developing a practice, I believe demonstrates more promising results. The approach starts with recognizing that probation must embrace not only the control of offenders but also their rehabilitation. Especially with high-risk offenders, threatening revocation and even applying punitive sanctions have minimal long-term effects. They may suppress troublesome conduct in the moment, but they do not achieve lasting behavioral change, the kind of change that will contribute to public safety. By contrast, emerging research suggests that officers might have positive effects on supervisees by moving in a more human services direction. One aspect is to build quality relationships with offenders. Another key tool is to use the present knowledge on the principles of effective intervention to frame interactions with offenders in supervision meetings. The goal is to show both that officers can have meaningful effects on offenders and that our knowledge about what the best supervision tools might be is growing.

Developing a high-quality probationer-officer relationship I believe is essential to probationers’ success. In fact, I have confidence in relationship quality should be the most important of the core correctional practices. It is the backdrop against which every interaction between the officer and the probationer is colored. High-quality relationships can facilitate better correctional practices among officers and better compliance among probationers. Without such relationships, officers could easily resort to a non-effective authoritarian style that is likely to be met by the probationers with resistance.

High-quality dual-role relationships should be fundamentally fostered by the officer. Having a balanced approach toward supervision and placing equal emphasis on control (e.g., monitoring for compliance with the terms of probation) and care (e.g., demonstrating genuine concern for the offender and assisting the offender with his needs) set the tone of the relationship. This alone has been shown to have an impact on offenders’ outcomes. Also, building a sense of trust between the officer and the probationer is essential. The probationer needs to feel safe with the officer. If an officer wishes to effect behavioral change, the probationer needs to know he or she can share issues that arise, damning or otherwise, without being judged, belittled, or berated. Officers who can avoid this authoritarian approach and instead employ a more authoritative, ‘firm-but-fair’ approach are likely to be much more successful in establishing a trusting relationship.

Officers can and should hold offenders accountable for their actions but do so in a way that fosters collaborative problem solving (e.g., by using techniques such as reinforcement and modeling of pro-social behavior), shows genuine concern and respect, and provides the probationer with the opportunity to express his opinion and contribute to decision-making. In short, high-quality dual-role relationships involve firmness, fairness, caring, and trust. With the new understanding that officer-offender relationships matter and can positively affect offender outcomes, practitioners can work toward building high-quality dual-role relationships into supervision settings.

In summation, I currently am employed in the law enforcement profession as a State Trooper with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol. However, if I were to choose a career in juvenile justice, I would choose the position of a Juvenile Probation Officer (JPO). Above, I have examined the history, qualifications, pros and cons of probation, as well as the roles and responsibilities of a JPO. “Juvenile probation officers (JPO) supervise youth who have been accused or convicted of crimes and are subsequently placed on probation or under protective supervision. JPOs work closely with law enforcement, social services, schools, and parents to help juveniles become successful.” Moreover, if you were to choose a career in juvenile justice, mine would be a JPO, what would yours be?

Works Cited

  1. Bartollas, C., & Miller, S. J. (2017). Juvenile justice in America (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.(n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2018, from https://www.brainyquote.com/search_results?q=juvenile probation
  2. How to Become a Juvenile Probation Officer: Career and Salary Information. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2018, from https://www.criminaljusticedegreeschools.com/criminal-justice-careers/juvenile-probation-officer/
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
  4. Parole and Prisoner Reentry in the United States, Joan Petersilia, Ph.D., retrieved from www.appa-net.org on November 11, 2018
  5. Probation in the United States, Joan Petersilia, Ph.D., retrieved from www.appa-net.org on November 11, 2018

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A Career in Juvenile Justice: Juvenile Probation Officer. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from


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