Probation officers supervise offenders serving a sentence in the community. They also help ex-prisoners return to society.
Probation officers usually earn
$54K-$60K per year
Senior probation officers usually earn
$60K-$69K per year
Source: Department of Corrections, 2018.
Pay for probation officers varies depending on their experience and level of responsibility.
- Probation officers usually earn between $54,000 and $60,000 a year.
- Senior probation officers and/or practice leaders usually earn between $60,000 and $69,000.
Probation officers in Auckland, Waitematā, Manukau, Hamilton and Wellington also receive an annual recruitment and retention allowance of between $1,000 and $2,500 a year.
Source: Department of Corrections, 2018.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Probation officers may do some or all of the following:
- talk to offenders, their families and others about the offender's background
- prepare reports for court cases
- prepare reports on prisoners who are being considered for parole
- make recommendations about appropriate programmes and treatment
- manage parole and community service work
- supervise people in home and community detention
- motivate offenders to make changes in their behaviour
- work with community agencies to get services, such as housing, for offenders
- refer offenders to suitable treatment or counselling agencies
- write reports about the progress of offenders.
Skills and knowledge
Probation officers need to have:
- knowledge of offender management
- good relationship management skills
- good report-writing skills.
- usually work regular business hours but may also need to work Saturdays, and are sometimes on call
- work in community probation and psychological services offices, prisons and courts
- may visit offenders in their homes.
What's the job really like?
Probation officer video
Quenten talks about life as a probation officer – 2.56 mins. (Video courtesy of Department of Corrections)
Case noting what we do with our offenders, doing some reports as well for court or even for the parole board. It takes a bit of our time up, but it's one of the things that has to be done. But it's one of those things that also betters your practice as well. You kind of learn from your case noting. And it gets better and better every time you do it.
You need to be focused. You also need to have good time management. That's probably one of the main priorities is having good time management. Being able to squeeze everything in. But we come down to the point where if we're running behind, we kind of just head down, bum up, and just get it done.
I expected the offenders...one of my first contacts was obviously...to be quite aggressive and always trying to get one over on you. But it was actually the absolute opposite. They were quite friendly, open. I mean, you get your offender that has a bad day, and they throw their toys. But I mean, it's very rare that it happens.
I think the biggest challenges of the job is patience. Your patience is definitely going to get tested if they walk into a room and just sit there. And they won't talk to you, they won't even look at you. They will just, they're playing the game. And you could sit there for 15 minutes and just look at each other. It's hard to see someone go through that. And then they end up coming back through the system again. And for some people, it might take five or six times until they're actually – "I'm sick of this, I really want to do something."
I think you need a positive attitude. I think you need an attitude that, you know, can-do. I think the main attitude is you need to come into the job knowing that you can't save everybody. But it's the ones that you do that count. Yeah.
I think the camaraderie, especially in my own office, we're very tight. It's something you actually need in a probation office. In terms of privacy, we can't really go home and just let it all out at home. It's something that you've kind of got to talk to your workmates. And we're quite open. And I think that's what makes us quite a good office is we're quite open with each other.
It's something that I hold quite dear to my heart is changing people's lives. It's not going to happen in a day or two. It's a journey that you go along with your offenders. And it's a journey that I enjoy. I think the change is the big thing for me – being able to have an impact on someone's life in some way or another. It's what gets me up in the morning. Yeah.
To become a probation officer you need to:
- pass a check that proves you have not been in prison
- pass a police vetting check
- have a full driver's licence
- pass a pre-employment drug test.
A tertiary qualification, such as a degree, in a subject such as psychology, criminology, sociology or social work is preferred but not essential.
The Department of Corrections provides training for new probation officers, which includes workplace and classroom learning. Training takes six months.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a probation officer, but NCEA Level 3 is preferred. Useful subjects include languages, social studies and te reo Māori.
Probation officers need to be:
- good communicators
- able to relate to people from a range of cultures and backgrounds
- mature, honest and confident
- good at analysis and problem solving
- able to remain positive in difficult situations
- alert and observant
- able to work well under pressure.
Useful experience for probation officers includes:
- work as a corrections officer
- community work
- social work
- coaching experience.
Find out more about training
- Department of Corrections
- firstname.lastname@example.org - www.corrections.govt.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Rise in number of prisoners creates demand for probation officers
The number of probation officer vacancies has been increasing due to more people going into prison – the number of prisoners rose by 20% between 2015 and 2018. Probation officers are needed to support these offenders when they leave prison.
According to the Census, 1.302 probation officers worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Opportunities arise due to internal promotion
Turnover among probation officers is high, as they often move into senior positions. This creates opportunities for new probation officers.
However, entry-level positions in some of the smaller probation service centres around the country may come up less often.
One employer of probation officers
All probation officers are employed by the Department of Corrections.
- Cowlishaw, S, 'Budget 2018: Waikeria Prison on Hold', 17 May 2018, (www.newsroom.co.nz).
- Davison, I, 'Budget 2018: Corrections Get Boost to Cope With Fast-Growing Prison Population', 17 May 2018, (www.nzherald.co.nz).
- Department of Corrections, 'Briefing to the Incoming Minister 2017', 2017, (www.corrections.govt.nz).
- Department of Corrections website, accessed May 2018, (www.corrections.govt.nz).
- Fisher, D, 'Andrew Little: Longer Sentences, More Prisoners – it Doesn't Work and it Has to Stop', 22 February 2018, (www.nzherald.co.nz),
- Gattey, M, 'Government Aims to Cut Prison Population and Fix "Abnormal" System', 29 March 2018, (www.stuff.co.nz).
- Ministry of Justice, 'Justice Sector Forecast 2011–2021, Forecast Update', March 2015, accessed May 2018, (www.justice.govt.nz).
- Rakuraku,S, manager recruitment administration, Department of Corrections, careers.govt.nz interview, July 2018.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Probation officers may progress to work as senior probation officers, who are responsible for mentoring and coaching new staff.
They may also move into jobs in management or policy at the Department of Corrections or the Ministry of Justice.
Last updated 20 August 2020