The primary role of a probation officer, parole agent, AKA a “community supervision officer,” is to keep track of criminal offenders. There is a dual purpose in this: to assist in the parolee’s transition back into normal life and to prevent a regression back into a criminal environment.
Probation officers and parole agents typically work for state and local governments, monitoring people who’ve been convicted of crimes but are not currently serving time in jail. Probation officers and parole agents serve essentially the same function, except that probation officers deal with people on probation and parole agents deal with people on parole. Probation and parole are similar methods of allowing people to serve their sentences for criminal conduct outside of a prison setting. Probation is given to criminals in lieu of jail as part of the sentencing portion of a trial, while parole is given to criminals who’ve already spent time in jail. Since they’re still serving time, people who are on either probation or parole are under strict rules of behavior, and if they fail to comply with those rules, they may be sent to jail for the remaining time on their sentence.
The positions both involve meeting with offenders regularly and monitoring them to ensure that they comply with the requirements of their sentence. Restrictions on parolees and probationers may include a curfew, getting a job, avoiding contact with specific people, attending drug rehabilitation, living in a specific building and staying within a certain geographic area, plus limitations on driving, gun possession and alcohol use. If a person being monitored breaks a rule and must be sent to jail, a probation officer or parole agent likely has the authority to place the suspect under arrest and conduct a search and seizure. As such, these jobs may entail carrying a firearm (parole agents more so than probation officers, since parolees are typically more seasoned criminals who’ve committed more serious crimes).
Probation officers work as part of the court system, performing pre-sentence investigations of their clients, preparing reports and plans to assist their return to a free society. Parole agents, who report directly to a parole board, likewise develop recommendations and plans for their clients — housing, employment, counseling, etc. — before they are released. When a parole violation or criminal behavior is alleged, parole agents conduct investigations to determine if there is any truth to the allegations. Probation officers and parole agents sometimes testify in court and recommend sentences for clients, and at other times, they just update officials on their clients’ rehabilitation progress and compliance with the stipulations of the sentence. Some jurisdictions — and the Federal government — combine probation with parole into one agency, while other have totally separate systems.