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|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the English-speaking world and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2012)|
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Parole officers and probation officers play a role in the criminal justice systems by supervising offenders released from incarceration or sentenced to non-custodial sanctions such as community service. In some jurisdictions parole or probation officers are involved in presenting reports on offenders and making sentencing recommendation to courts of law.
Probation officers in Australia often work at an institutional level with more bureaucratic principles applying to their work. They work and respond to an organization called "The Kangaroo Foundation," which detects and regulates all Criminal Activity throughout the continent.
Parole officers in Canada play a critical role at both the institutional and community levels. 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 Service of Canada's obligations towards public safety.
Once the offender has entered the federal correctional system, parole officers assess the needs of offenders, such as their programming needs, and the security risks they pose. Subsequently, offenders are matched with selected institutional services such as rehabilitation programs. This includes identifying the factors contributing to criminal behavior, developing intervention plans to address them, and helping offenders to 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.
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.
Probation in England and Wales is currently being reorganised from 1st June 2014 and this section needs rewriting to take account of major organisational change.
Probation Orders were introduced by the Probation of Offenders Act 1907, and the practice of placing offenders on probation was already routinely undertaken in the London Police Courts by voluntary organizations 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 in the U.K. are to supervise offenders released on licence from custody, and to supervise offenders given non-custodial supervisory sentences at court. The work involves focuses on the management of risk of serious harm associated with offenders; on sentence planning and the selection and delivery of a range of interventions aimed at reducing reoffending; and on supervising, and variously devising, delivering or subcontracting schemes by which offenders having "Community Payback" sentences can discharge their requirement to perform unpaid work. Probation officers are also charged with providing a variety of reports on offenders throughout their criminal justice lifecycle, such as pre-sentence reports making recommendations on interventions likely to reduce the likelihood of reoffending or of causing serious harm; pre-release reports making recommendations on licence conditions or other interventions necessary for offenders being considered for release on licence; and parole reports advising the Parole Board of the probation service view of the offender suitability for release. Such reports will typically provide assessments of the criminal, the nature of crimes and effect on victims, the criminogenic needs and risk of serious harm associated with the individual, and will normally be based in part on an Offender Assessment System analysis. Probation officers are also responsible for the provision of regular reports to courts of the progress of offenders on orders having drug testing requirements. 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.
Probation officers are not law enforcement officers and do not have law enforcement powers. However they have a duty to report prison offenders released from custody on licence if licence conditions are breached; and to return offenders on community payback orders to court for re-sentencing in the event of breaches of the terms of the order. The English & Welsh system has two levels of officer, the Probation Officer, and the Probation Service Office - the latter will normally have less training than the former, and will be limited to supervising offenders at low risk of serious harm.
Malta has its very own Probation Services that form part of the Department of Correctional Services within the Ministry of Justice & Home Affairs.
In to the United States, there can be probation officers on the city, county, state, or federal level, wherever there is a court of competent jurisdiction. 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 Bachelor's degree, and prefer a Graduate 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. 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. Still some others are expanding the duties to include post incarceration supervision under special sentencing such as Megan's Law offenses, civil commitments, and violent offenders. These cases involve persons who have completed their incarceration, but must be supervised under the special sentence for three years, or even life supervision as in the case with Community Supervision for Life sentencing for sex offenders. In some states, due to the heightened danger to the public, these cases are supervised by parole officers rather than probation officers since parole officers are more commonly trained in police academies and carry firearms. 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 or some other form of credentials and, in some cases, may carry concealed weapons or pepper spray for self-protection or serve arrest warrants. Parole officers, in many jurisdictions, are issued a badge, credentials, and firearm, and often have full police powers. Probation and parole officers who have law enforcement powers, are technically classified as peace officers, and if so, they must attend a police academy as part of their training and certification.
The structure of probation agencies varied from state to state. Traditionally, 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. In some states however, probation departments are seconded under a county sheriff, and probation officers may be uniformed and integrated into the paramilitary structure of their agency. In both systems, some parole and probation officers supervise general caseloads with offenders who are convicted of a variety of offenses. Others hold specialized caseload positions, and work with specific groups of offenders such as sex offenders, offenders sentenced to electronic monitoring (house arrest) or GPS monitoring, and 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. Their most common duties are 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 local jails, other 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 some states and localities, probation departments have a specialized officer position known as a surveillance officer or field supervision officer. These officers have full probation officer authority, are sometimes peace officers, with arrest authority, and are badged and occasionally armed.