Stress Faced by Probation Officers"Literature Review" Chapter

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Stresses on Probation Officers

Stress is a serious topic for those in the criminal justice field, and that is true even in areas where it might not seem as significant. For example, there are many stresses placed on probation officers, and they often have to deal with issues and problems that would not necessarily be seen by others in the criminal justice profession (Sauvagnat, 2011). For example, probation officers work with the criminal element out in the world, instead of within the confines of the jail, so they often need to address both the probation issues and other problems that come up in the life of the person who is on probation. Because that is the case, they can find themselves being counselors and advisors, as well, and they may have to coordinate with other agencies, families, and employers in an effort to keep the person on probation moving forward and getting his or her life back on track (Sauvagnat, 2011).

Many people who are on probation violate that probation and are re-arrested, but that is not the case with every person, and some complete their probation and move on. The officers, however, simply work with the probationers to which they have been assigned, and these individuals can be on probation for a number of things (Hoge, 2012). Case loads are often high, and anyone who works in the criminal justice field understands that they can potentially be at risk for violence, as well (Hoge, 2012). Probation officers can become targets for criminal activity, and also have to be careful that their families and friends are not targeted, also. That can put a great deal of stress on them, and that stress can feel as though it is coming from a number of different places. Handling that stress, therefore, needs a multi-pronged approach and has to be tailored to the probation officer in question. Not everyone handles stress in the same way, and that has to be taken into account.

Problem Overview

There are a number of variables to consider when looking at the stresses that are placed on probation officers. Without taking a careful look at the various factors that can be problematic for these officers, one might miss a number of nuances that could strongly affect how a probation officer handles stress and how he or she feels about the various types of stress to which he or she is subjected. Because probation officers are all different from one another, what bothers one may not bother another. However, there are standard stressors that have the opportunity to affect all probation officers, and how strongly each one is affected by these stressors will correlate to that officer's personality and the way in which the stressor was presented, along with how many stressors are given to that officer (Aguirre, 2007). The way the problem of stress and probation officers is defined, along with how prevalent it is and the populations that are most affected by it all matter, as do the consequences that can come from the stress, and the way others outside of the probation officer population may be affected by the stress that these individuals are placed under.

Defining the Problem

Stress is the problem and, more specifically, the various stressors that are most commonly seen by probations officers. These include primarily mental and emotional stress, as physical stress is not generally a component of the job (Barrick, 2004; O'Donnell, 2001). Stressors that are faced by probation officers include feeling threatened and frightened or uncomfortable, worrying about harm coming to family and friends, and struggling with mental health issues from the behaviors they are exposed to and the tension they are under so much of the time (Hoge, 2012; McCall & Grogan, 1974). Because probation officers face these stressors, helping them handle stress effectively is important.


The prevalence of stress in the role of the probation officer is high, but it becomes difficult to put exact numbers on it. One of the reasons for that problem comes from the lack of reporting of stress and mental health issues that is done by probation officers (Aguirre, 2007; O'Donnell, 2001; Sauvagnat, 2011). There have been differences in reporting between male and female probation officers (Cochran, 1976). That would make sense based on gender stereotypes and roles, but it is important to note that there are fewer of these kinds of discrepancies with the changing times (Hoge, 2012). Now, both male and female probation officers are more likely to report mental health and stress issues, but both genders still avoid reporting these things as often as they could or should (Hoge, 2012). Because of that, accurate numbers of how many probation officers struggle with stress-related issues may never be something that will generally be available. The goal then becomes to focus on those who do report them, in order to provide the necessary help and support (O'Donnell, 2001).


The population of probation officers affected by stressors include males and females, as well as officers of numerous races (Aguirre, 2007; Barrick, 2004). There is no focus on a particular group within the segment of the population who work as probation officers, because they are all susceptible to dealing with (and struggling with) stressors that can come from the job they do and the people with which they must work on a daily basis (Friedman, 1993; Fuller, 2005; Goldsmith, 1988; Hoge, 2012). The job of a probation officer is certainly not one that would be right for everyone, and both male and female officers can have trouble processing some of the issues they face and the ways in which they are treated by those they are required to oversee (Hoge, 2012).


A significant number of consequences can come about from the stressors that are faced by probation officers (Hoge, 2012). One of the issues that is becoming more prevalent is mental health issues of numerous types (Sauvagnat, 2011). Depression and anxiety are being reported in the probation officer population more often than in the past, both because the job is becoming more stressful and because there is less of a stigma with mental health issues today (Sauvagnat, 2011). Other issues, such as PTSD and anger problems, are also seen in probation officers as they struggle to deal with the stressors of their work (Hoge, 2012; Sauvagnat, 2011). These consequences can be very severe, and can spill over into other interactions the probation officer has outside of work (Hoge, 2012). The stressors can also lead to burnout, which can cause a probation officer to struggle with completing work properly, and can even lead him or her to leave the profession and seek out other work (Sauvagnat, 2011).

Affects on Others

It is not just the probation officer who must deal with the stress. The effects on family, community, and society all matter. Probation officers who become too stressed and struggle with the right way to handle that stress can have a hard time with family life, leading to fights, divorces, and even domestic violence and abuse (Hoge, 2012). This is not common, but it can and does happen because the level of stress becomes too much to be properly handled. When it comes to the communities in which these probation officers live and society as a whole, suspicious feelings can keep a probation officer somewhat removed from others (Hoge, 2012). Understanding that these feelings come with stress, and finding healthy ways to deal with the feelings, can help not only the officer, but his or her family, friends, and the surrounding community (Fuller, 2005; O'Donnell, 2001; Sauvagnat, 2011)


Various theories are available as to the stressors that plague probation officers and why the problem seems to be coming to light more now. Part of the reason that more information on the issue is being seen is that there are more people who are willing to talk about it (Hoge, 2012). That comes from a lowered stigma for mental health issues and stress that causes problems in a number of jobs, but it also comes from more women working as probation officers (Hoge, 2012). In general, women are more willing to talk about their feelings and share the issues and problems they are having (O'Donnell, 2001). Because of that, they have brought to light some of the stress problems that are faced by probation officers and, in turn, more of the male officers have been willing to open up about their experiences and get the help and support they need to work through the problems they are having with stress (Hoge, 2012).

Stress in probation work is not new, but the case loads are getting heavier and the people who work in the field are finding that they must devote more of their time and effort to their job, which contributes to increased stress (Hoge, 2012; Sauvagnat, 2011). It also provides them with less downtime to enjoy, so they end up raising their stress levels even further without adequate time to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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