Working for the National Probation Service in England and Wales, probation service officers (PSOs) support offenders who are serving custodial and community sentences. They also oversee and co-ordinate rehabilitation programmes for offenders in custody and after release from prison.
They may supervise offenders ordered by the court to:
- Complete community sentences
- Attend alcohol and drug treatment
- Stay in probation hostels
- Stay away from an area where they had committed a crime
In this respect, their job and duties are very similar to that of a probation officer. However, PSOs supervise only low-risk offenders and are not required to undertake the probation officer qualification.
PSOs work in different specialist teams. For example, some work in victim support teams, which provide information and support to victims and their families about the criminal justice process. Some specialise in delivering employment, training and educational support to offenders while in custody. Others may supervise offenders undertaking community sentences to ensure they meet the requirements of community punishment orders.
Typical daily activities of a PSO may involve:
As well as meeting offenders and victims, PSOs regularly liaise with colleagues within the NPS, including probation officers. They also work closely with the police force, prison service and other specialist agencies, housing associations and local authorities.
PSOs usually work Monday to Friday. Weekend and evening cover may be required in some teams, particularly those working in the community. They may be able to work on a part-time or job sharing basis.
PSOs are usually based in a variety of specialist custodial units, including prisons and hostels and other community facilities. The job can involve traveling within the region to interview offenders being held in custody or to attend court. A driving licence may be useful.
The starting salary for PSOs is around £21,179 a year. Salaries for experienced PSOs can reach £27,102 a year.
An additional London allowance may be available.
The National Probation Service (NPS), which has around 21,000 staff, currently employs all probation officers in England and Wales. It works with the Prison Service to provide the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), which is now part of the Ministry of Justice.
Probation service officers work for regional probation trusts. Full contact details and regional websites are published on the NPS website.
Vacancies are advertised on the websites of the probation trusts, and in Probation Bulletin. They may also appear in the local press, ethnic minority press and Jobcentre Plus offices.
Entrants usually need five GCSE's grades (A*-C) or equivalent. This requirement may vary between probation areas. Those with relevant work experience may also be accepted.
Some relevant work experience is desirable. Many entrants are adults joining the service as a second career. Maturity and life experience, particularly working in the criminal justice system, adult education or welfare support, are highly valued. Voluntary work in mentoring or rehabilitation programmes can also be an advantage. Those recruited to work in employment, training and education units usually need some knowledge of the adult education system.
There are Advanced Apprenticeships in youth justice services. This Apprenticeship programme takes two years to complete. The apprentice is employed in a relevant justice setting, which may include the Probation Service, and works towards gaining a number of nationally recognised qualifications.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
All new recruits to the Probation Service go through an induction in their first ten days in the job. This introduces the purpose, core work, vision and values of the Probation Service.
Probation service officers then study for the Level 3 Diploma in probation practice. The training is vocational, with work-based learning and supervised practice.
Entrants are expected to achieve the qualification within a year. Successful completion demonstrates a PSO's competence in delivering probation outcomes when working with lower-risk offenders.
Probation staff can also work towards a range of NVQ's in community justice at Levels 3 and 4, including:
- Work with victims, survivors and witnesses
- Community safety
- Work with offending behaviour
- Youth justice services
Playworkers work with children and young people to provide a safe, exciting and fun space in which to play, socialise, try out new things or just spend quiet time. Working in teams, they may work with children ranging between the ages of four and sixteen, or with one particular age group.
The idea of freely chosen, self-directed play is integral to playwork and all playwork settings aim to encourage children and young people to decide and control the content and intent of their play by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
A probation service officer needs to be:
Experienced PSOs can progress to supervisory roles. Managing community work projects, supervisors encourage offenders to learn new practical skills that may enhance future employment prospects or be used in their everyday lives.
Once experienced, it is also possible for a PSO to become a probation officer. This involves studying for a three-part degree in community justice, alongside a Diploma in probation practice at Level 5. On successful completion, they can apply for probation officer posts.
Ministry of Justice,
6th Floor, Temple Court,
35 Bull Street, Birmingham, B4 6WF
Tel: 0121 250 6350
National Probation Service,
1st Floor Abell House,
John Islip Street,
London SW1P 4LH
Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499