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Probation and parole officers have certain law enforcement duties and responsibilities that are needed, because the number of the parole population has grown. During the years of their existence, parole practices and duties have changed significantly. Their primary emphasis is on providing treatment to offenders and encouraging them to change their behavior. They also provide judges with needed information. At the state and local levels, parole systems vary greatly.

Distinctions between Probation and Parole Officers and their Tasks

Probation officers are usually thought of as part of the correction field; however, they have several law enforcement duties and responsibilities. They have the dual role of assisting convicted individuals in monitoring their behavior and referring them to treatment, education, financial and employment services, but they also have a responsibility to keep their communities safe. If the person on probation violates the terms of his or her release, the law enforcement role may take priority. Some probation officers are authorized by law to carry firearms, though this is dependent on the jurisdiction. At the federal level, probation officers serve the federal court system and are not only authorized to carry weapons, but are classified as law enforcement officers. There are over 5550 LEOs assigned to the Office of Probation and Pretrial Services, which serves the 94 federal district courts across the United States (Conser et al, 2012). Their primary emphasis is on providing treatment to offenders and encouraging them to change their behavior. They also provide judges with needed information, which is usually referred to as a pre-sentence investigation or pre-trial investigation report, to make sound decisions when deciding whether a person should be placed on probation.

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 Federal probation officers partner closely with the major federal law enforcement agencies and often assist on investigations, task forces, and special operations. The research asserts that at the state and local levels, probation services usually are administered through the judicial system; however, it may be part of the executive branch and administered through a department of corrections. Recent data indicate that over 4,203,967 persons were on community probation in the United States, with 72% under active supervision (Alarid, 2012). The duties and authority of probation officers may be dedicated by state law. Probation officers may serve papers to, arrest, and detain persons for violating conditions of probation. This often extends to searchers of the probationers’ premises as well.

The distinction between probation officers and parole officers is one of timing and Jurisdiction. Probation implies community control or treatment in lieu of being sent to jail or prison, while parole refers to community monitoring and assistance after the individual has served the jail or prison sentence. According to the research, at the state and local levels, parole systems vary greatly. Thirty-eight states administer parole under their department of corrections or rehabilitation, and eleven utilize and independent parole agency or other system. The Adult Parole Authority is the title given to branch that carries out the functions associated with those on parole. In thirty-five states, parole and probation duties may be assigned to the same office or officer. One law enforcement role of parole officers is to initiate parole revocation of a parole – essentially sending the person back to prison. One study found that from 1977 to 2000, there was seven-fold increase in the number of parole violators returning to prison (Travis & Lawrence, 2002).

Historical Review

As community correction acts were established, they helped create stability for the notion of correctional supervision in the community as a primary mode of social control. Probation supervision styles have changed over the last 100 years. The research asserts that in 1900-1970s, when probation began, the supervision process was oriented toward casework, providing therapeutic services to probationers or parolees to assist them in living productively in the community. Probation and parole officers were viewed as “caseworkers”. The literature on probation and parole supervision during this period was replete with medical and psychiatric terminology, such as treatment and diagnosis. In the early 1970s, the casework approach began to break down (Conser et al, 2012).

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 Many services needed by probationers and parolees could be more readily and effectively provided by specialized community agencies that handled mental health, employment, housing, education, private welfare, and other services. In this supervision strategy, developing linkages between clients and appropriate agencies was considered one of the probation and parole officer’s most important tasks. By the mid-1980s, the justice model dominated probation and parole supervision. This model primarily assisted offenders in complying with supervision conditions. From 2001 by present, neighborhood-based supervision was provided. In this model, the supervision strategy emphasizes the community more than previous models. In neighborhood-based supervision, the probation officers are in the community more than an office, engaging the community groups as partners in offender supervision.

The responsibilities and duties of probation/parole officers are rather wide. They can be identified as follows: conduct follow-up interviews to determine needs, problems, and social progress; write reports about clients’ progress; make recommendations to court or parole board when terms of probation are not followed; determine if inmates are suitable for parole; help offenders with community service sentences find jobs; investigate suspected parole or probation violations or criminal behavior; develop plans and recommendations for offenders before their release, and others. People in this occupation also perform many tasks that are common to many other professions, such as make decisions and solve problems, document and record information, resolve conflicts and negotiate with others.


To conclude, it is worth mentioning that probation/parole officers are usually thought of as part of the correction field; however, they have several law enforcement duties and responsibilities. The research has shown that probation/parole supervision styles and responsibilities have changed over the last 100 years.

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