Probation officer

Job Description:

Probation officers work with people serving community and prison sentences, and support them to stay away from reoffending.

Job Category:

What you will do:

You’ll work with offenders before, during and after their sentence to reduce the risk of re-offending and help rehabilitation.

You may work in:

  • courts – helping prepare pre-sentence reports and giving advice at Court and Tribunals Service on the day of trial
  • prisons – working towards release with high-risk offenders, prison officers and community teams
  • community – managing offenders on community orders or on licence from prison, living at home or in Approved Premises (previously probation or bail hostels)

Your day-to-day tasks may include:

  • interviewing offenders before sentencing or parole
  • making sure offenders attend supervision appointments and take part in group programmes
  • running group programmes to change offenders’ behaviour
  • assessing risks and writing reports to help prisons and parole review boards decide about early release
  • working with victims of violent or sexual crime when prisoners are being considered for parole
  • working with prisoners about to be released

You’ll also work with other agencies like the police, social services and youth offending teams.


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of public safety and security
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently

As well as:

  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • the ability to use your initiative
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • leadership skills
  • to be flexible and open to change (adaptability skills)
  • thinking and reasoning skills
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become a Probation Officer, you’ll typically need a good educational background, strong interpersonal skills, and a commitment to helping individuals reintegrate into society. Here are some suggested subjects that can help prepare you for a career in probation work:

  1. English: Strong communication skills are essential for working with clients, writing reports, and documenting case details.
  2. Mathematics: While not a strict requirement, having a good foundation in mathematics can be useful for analysing data and managing case files.
  3. Psychology or Sociology: These subjects can help you understand human behaviour, which is crucial for working with individuals in the criminal justice system.
  4. Health and Social Care: Courses in this area can provide insights into social issues, healthcare, and the challenges faced by individuals involved with the criminal justice system.
  5. Law (if available): If your school offers law courses, taking them can provide valuable insights into the legal system and criminal justice procedures.
  6. Citizenship or Government & Politics: These subjects can help you understand the government and legal systems, which is relevant to probation work.

Post School

You’ll need:

  • a qualification like a foundation degree, degree or higher apprenticeship
  • experience of working with people who have challenging behaviour (either through voluntary work or paid employment)

You could start out as a probation services officer (PSO) and then:

  • pass the in-house vocational level 3 Diploma in Probation Practice (or equivalent)
  • get relevant experience
  • get in touch with contracted universities running the Prison & Probation Service
  • complete the required assignments with a university
  • complete an appropriate study programme

You’ll also need knowledge and understanding in 4 study areas:

  • the criminal justice system
  • crime and criminal behaviour
  • penal policy and punishment of offenders
  • rehabilitation of offenders

Once you’ve got the right qualifications and experience, you can begin a Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) employed as a probation service officer. Once you’ve completed this, you can apply for probation officer roles.

Related university subject profiles

These university subjects are related to this career:

  • Education
  • Law and Legal studies

Working Hours and Environment:

You’ll usually work around 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You may need to cover nights and weekends, usually with time off for working unsocial hours.

You’ll work in an office. You’ll also travel to community programmes, group sessions, prisons and court.

A driving licence may be useful.

Career Path & Progression:

With experience you could become a senior probation officer.

With further training you could specialise in working with particular groups, like high-risk or sexual offenders.

Further promotion usually means moving into management and away from working with offenders. You could become an area manager or chief executive.