Community Corrections

Probation Officer teaching a class for probationers. Case management. Administrative Support Staff entering client data. Probation Officer conducting a risk and needs assessment. Probation Officer reviewing a case file with Prosecuting Attorney. A probationer’s Violation Hearing. Probation Officer transporting juvenile. Justice Center. Program Director at halfway house. Probation/Parole Supervisor in the community. GED Instructor at the probation office. Probation/Parole Officer checking in with Halfway House Shift Supervisor. Administrative Support Staff and Probation Officer reviewing a report. Probation/Parole Officer administering an alcohol breath test. Probation Officers conducting field contacts. Badge and cuffs. Use of the Breathalyzer to monitor compliance. Photo by Alice Fernando Juvenile Probation Officers conducting home visit.

The work of Community Corrections employees revolves around monitoring defendants and other people under supervision and offering them access to programs and services designed to discourage future law-breaking behavior. In addition to the monitoring and program access, the emphasis with adult offenders and juvenile delinquents over the last 10 years has been focused on changing behaviors through the use of evidence-based practices. Community corrections programs, which are alternatives to confinement, include pretrial services, diversion, probation, parole, and community-based residential and non-residential programs (e.g., day reporting centers and halfway houses). It should be noted that in some jurisdictions, those who work in the community corrections arena are certified peace officers, and training reflects not only this role, but the roles previously stated (see pre-service training area for more detail).

Community Corrections agencies supervise most of the adult and juvenile correctional populations in local, state, federal, and tribal jurisdictions across the United States. To learn more about how Community Corrections is administered within these jurisdictions, click on the links below.

Local and State
  • Pretrial services can be administered by a wide array of agencies and organizations including, but not limited to: local government, state agency, non-profit organization or court.
  • Diversion services (designed to divert an individuals’ further involvement with the justice system) are often administered by pretrial or probation agencies; however, these programs can also be overseen by the prosecutor’s office, the court or nonprofit organizations.
  • Probation administration varies widely among jurisdictions. These differences include the level (i.e., state, local, or tribal) and branch (i.e., executive or judicial) of government under which probation services are delivered. In some states probation and parole services are combined, while in others the two services are administered by different agencies and at different levels of government. In some instances, a non-profit agency may provide supervision services to misdemeanor offenders. In addition, some probation departments supervise both adults and juveniles, while in other jurisdictions, those functions are separated between two distinct agencies
  • Parole services are typically administered via a state agency such as a State Board of Pardons and Parole, the Department of Corrections, or a Juvenile Justice agency.
  • In the US Probation and Pretrial Services System, management is local, while oversight and support are national.
  • The Criminal Law Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States oversees the US Probation and Pretrial Services System. The Committee addresses such matters as the system's operations, workload, funding and resources, as well as employment standards for system employees and issues pertaining to the administration of criminal law.
  • The Administrative Office of the US Courts carries out the Judicial Conference's policies and provides the courts with a broad range of administrative, management and program support.
  • The US Office of Probation and Pretrial Services is responsible for developing policies, supporting programs and reviewing the work of district probation and pretrial services offices. Read more information on US Probation and Pretrial Services.
  • Chief Probation and Pretrial Services Officers in each district are responsible for hiring, managing budgets and supervising district offices.
  • In some districts, probation and pretrial services are separate offices. In other districts, they are combined in one office.
  • US probation and pretrial services offices are located in 93 of the 94 US district courts, which include the US territories.
  • There are 565 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Each of these are sovereign nations, meaning they govern themselves as “domestic dependent nations”. This creates jurisdictional nuances when supervising individuals on probation/parole.
  • Probation is a relatively new correctional option in tribal justice systems. In some jurisdictions, supervised and un-supervised community release may be a function of a court clerk, a law enforcement officer, or a probation officer.
  • Many probation positions begin as grant-funded roles through tribal court or law enforcement programs. The positions are either maintained through grant funding requests or incorporated into the tribal budget.
  • Tribes, without tribal courts, are exploring collaborative partnerships with local or state governments to provide courtesy supervision to tribal members placed on community supervision. Additionally, tribes with existing tribal courts are exploring similar courtesy supervision agreements which allow tribal-specific interventions.
  • Due to the enhanced sentencing authority provided under the Tribal Law & Order Act of 2010 coupled with tribes receiving funds under the Correctional Facilities on Tribal Lands program to build or renovate detention facilities, tribes are beginning to explore the role of parole and reentry planning for individuals incarcerated in tribal facilities as well as for those returning to Indian Country upon release from incarceration in federal, state or county facilities.

There are many different Community Corrections positions and roles within local, state, federal and tribal justice systems. Although certainly not comprehensive, the list below outlines some possible employment areas within the Community Corrections arena:

  • Executive/Senior Management
  • Defendant/Offender/Adult/Juvenile Supervision
  • Operations and Maintenance
  • Administrative and Clerical
  • IT Administration/Oversight
  • Defendant/Offender/Adult/Juvenile Education
  • Staff Training
  • Crime Victim Services
  • Program and Policy Creation
  • Research/Analysis
  • Individual and/or Family Counseling or other Interventions
  • Human Resources
  • Victim Offender Mediation
Further explore the range of positions in Corrections. Search our Job Board for positions within this discipline.

Given the vast number of employment opportunities within the Community Corrections discipline, required knowledge and skill sets can vary greatly. But generally speaking, people seeking a position as a Community Corrections practitioner need to possess a range of skills and abilities that will enable them to perform a complex job with multiple goals. Specific requirements for skills and abilities will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The following are some examples of desirable skill sets and abilities:

  • Excellent communication skills, including effective listening and articulation
  • Excellent leadership and interpersonal skills
  • Strong writing skills, particularly as relates to developing case reports
  • Strong technical knowledge and skills, including insight into criminogenic needs
  • Physical and intellectual stamina
  • Reliability and ability to work independently and autonomously
  • Good analytical and decision-making skills
  • Efficient organizational and problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work effectively with resistant individuals
  • Strong commitment to the safety and well-being of others
  • Knowledge of community resources and coordination of services
  • Strong orientation towards quality service

skillsMany agencies desire applicants also have knowledge/skills/abilities in the following areas:

  • Basic knowledge of the criminal/juvenile justice system and relevant laws for their community as well as neighboring jurisdictions (tribal/state/local)
  • General knowledge of the principles of evidence-based practices related to the field of Community Corrections
  • Understanding of the dynamics of human behavior, such as the behavioral characteristics of offenders/delinquents with anti-social behavior
  • Knowledge of methods and techniques used in working with adult and juvenile offenders, such as Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Restructuring
  • Knowledge of methods and techniques used in treatment and counseling of offenders/delinquents who experience mental illness and/or substance abuse
  • Ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing with a wide range of audiences (offenders, delinquents, family members, the Judiciary, treatment providers, law enforcement, community partners, tribal elders/tribal council members and others)
  • Sensitivity to group and individual differences and challenges bias and intolerance.
  • Ability to plan, organize, and manage time with efficiency and effectiveness, including the ability to handle multiple tasks and crisis situations
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • Proficiency in the use of and willingness to learn about the technology and databases required in the performance of stated job duties

Prospective applicants may be required to take written, oral, psychological, physical and medical examinations.

Basic requirements for employment as a Community Corrections officer vary by jurisdiction and type of position. Agencies may require applicants to be at least 21 years of age and in the case of federal jobs, the Federal Employee’s Retirement Act of 1986, requires that federal employees must be under age 37 when hired.

Some positions in corrections may require that applicants take a civil service or merit system examination. In addition, many organizations require that a candidate participate in an oral interview. These examinations are intended to be a method to achieve a fair, effective and rational administration of government hiring practices. Read job posting announcements carefully to determine if a civil service examination is required and the dates and locations of these types of exams.

Below are guidelines surrounding typical qualifications for Community Corrections jobs. Please note, these are provided only for general guidance; refer to actual job postings to determine specific requirements.

Minimum Qualifications:
  • High school diploma or GED (most will require a college degree)
  • Some relevant experience
  • Valid Driver’s License
  • Good physical and mental fitness
qualificationsHighly Desirable Qualifications:
  • College education (e.g., bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice, sociology, psychology, social work, criminology, psychology, or related field usually preferred)
  • Multiple years of relevant job experience and/or volunteer service
  • Relevant specialty skills such as fluency in a second language (e.g., Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Somali), technology, research and assessment certification in chemical dependency, sexuality or mental health
  • Clean employment record (i.e.: not previously released from employment or resigned under unsatisfactory circumstances)
  • No criminal history (some jurisdictions will hire individuals with a criminal history who have demonstrated a certain period of law-abiding behavior)
  • Background in chemical dependency interventions
  • Previous volunteer work in the community corrections area

Due to the physical nature and potential safety risks of the job, Community Corrections officers are typically in good physical and mental condition, possess standard (or correctable) vision, and have the ability to function effectively within a stressful environment. These factors are usually assessed via entry-level tests that help determine an individual’s interpersonal skills, judgment/logical reasoning ability, physical agility and more. Candidates may also be asked to undergo additional assessments, including pre-employment physical examination, psychological examination and a drug screening.

Also be aware that many hiring agencies may research your social media presence (Facebook, Google+, MySpace, etc.) for inappropriate activity, photographs and comments.

If you are a new graduate entering the workforce for the first time or a person looking to change careers, do not be overly concerned if you lack direct relevant work experience. Transferable knowledge and skills, as well as internships and/or volunteer experience are often viewed positively.

Read our Tips for Interviewing > >

Please note, these are provided only for general guidance; refer to actual job postings to determine specific requirements. Job postings, and often online applications, background check forms and other required documentation, are typically posted on the websites of agencies.

There are no national standard training mandates for Community Corrections professionals; however, most new Community Corrections employees are provided with training by the employing agency to ensure they have the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and safely perform job duties.

Pre-Service Training

Typical training topics may include:

  • Legal foundations of the profession
  • Agency policy and procedures
  • Professional and effective use of authority
  • Basic supervision skills
  • Basic behavior-change counseling strategies, which might include such areas as motivational interviewing
  • Defensive tactics training
  • Techniques for deescalating hostile individuals
  • Search and seizure protocols
  • Basics of evidence-based practices and principles, including (but not limited to) the use of risk assessment tools.

trainingMost states, local, and tribal agencies have their own training standards and mandates for new and existing employees; some require new employees to attend training in an academy setting. Like employees in many other professions, Community Corrections officers often go through a probationary period before being considered permanent, full-time employees. During this period, officers typically receive on-the-job training.

In some jurisdictions, Community Corrections officers may be granted sworn peace officer status. Some sworn officers are authorized to carry a firearm and/or tasers. Further, officers may participate in law enforcement academy, or other certified training experiences, for firearms and tactical training. Such training and firearms certification is typically completed within the first year of employment.

In-Service Training

Many Community Corrections agencies also provide officers with ongoing training and professional development opportunities regarding current research and trends affecting policy and practice to keep them up-to-date. These additional training hours may be provided through internal agency training programs, national or regional conferences, online training opportunities, or other special events.

Specialized Training

Officers in specialized roles such as, but not limited to, supervising sex offenders, gang affiliated individuals, mentally ill offenders, or individuals placed on intensive supervision often receive additional training necessary to address the unique needs and challenges of these specific populations.

Working with Juvenile Offenders

There are unique aspects to supervising juveniles in the community that may require special training. Among these are:

  • The ability to work with the parent(s) or guardian(s) of the youth.
  • The ability to interact with schools (e.g., teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors), as school performance is an important risk factor.
  • The ability to interact with human service agencies and professionals who deliver services to justice-involved juveniles and their families, as numerous referrals are made to family and children service providers.
  • An understanding of adolescent development and behavior.
  • An understanding of juvenile-specific terminology, legal definitions, and treatment interventions.

The type and comprehensiveness of training provided to new and existing Community Corrections professionals varies by agency; therefore, when seeking jobs in this field, be sure to inquire about the type of pre-service training and ongoing professional development.

  1. What is the difference between probation and parole?
  2. What are the educational requirements for probation and parole officers?
  3. What major is best to pursue if I want to work in this field?
  4. What is the general annual salary for probation and parole officers?
  5. What kind of training is provided to probation and parole officers after they are hired?
  6. Do probation and parole officers carry firearms?
  7. Do probation and parole officers have the legal authority to make arrests?
  8. Is this kind of work dangerous?
  9. What is the nature of the work environment for probation and parole officers?
  10. Are there opportunities for promotion?
  11. How secure is a career in probation or parole?
  12. Do I need any special licenses or certifications to be a probation or parole officer?
  13. Is there an upper age limit for being a probation, or parole officer?
  14. Is it possible to get an internship in a probation or parole office?
  15. Do I need a different kind of education or experience to work with juveniles?
  16. What type of experience do I need to get hired as a probation or parole officer?
  17. If I have a criminal conviction in my past, will this disqualify me from employment as a probation or parole officer?
  18. What if being a probation or parole officer is not right for me, but I would still like to work in community corrections?
  19. How do I find out if there are any job openings in my city/county/state?
  20. Are you required to be enrolled in a federally recognized Indian Tribe when applying for tribal positions?

1. What is the difference between probation and parole?

While both probation and parole refer to supervision of adults or juveniles in the community, the controlling authority for each is different. If the authority over the offender rests with a judge, it is generally a probation sentence (or some other type of diversion program) that allows the offender to avoid a lengthy sentence of incarceration. The largest number of adults and juveniles under supervision in the community are on supervised or unsupervised probation.

Probation is a period of supervised release in the community under conditions established by the court. Failure to satisfy the conditions (which may include the requirement of reporting to a supervision officer, paying fines and restitution, attending treatment, and maintaining law abiding behavior) may result in stricter sanctions or revocation of the right to remain in the community. While the judge maintains jurisdiction over the sentence, the supervision or monitoring of the individual may be provided by a government entity or by a private provider under contract to the governmental entity or the court.

Parole is a period of transition back into the community, with conditions, following a prison sentence. It is called by different terms in different jurisdictions. It is ordered by a releasing authority (e.g., parole board or release officer) and not by the judge. This period may also be called Aftercare especially when referencing juveniles. The terms Supervised Release, Re-Entry, or Transition are commonly used as well. The paroling or releasing authority or state agency generally has oversight of the supervising agents and the offender conditions. Violation of the conditions may result in additional sanctions or a return to incarceration

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2. What are the educational requirements for probation and parole officers?

The minimum educational requirements for adult and juvenile probation and parole officers vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The vast majority of jurisdictions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Some jurisdictions prefer candidates have some level of previous related experience or knowledge of the job. A few jurisdictions will consider candidates with a minimum of a high school education and experience.

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3. What major is best to pursue if I want to work in this field?

For many traditional jobs within community corrections agencies (e.g., probation or parole officer) agencies prefer candidates to have graduated with a major in criminal justice, psychology, sociology, social work, criminology, or a closely related field; however, it is not necessarily required. Relevant experience can often be substituted for a degree in one of the preferred educational areas. For jobs within community corrections agencies that are non-traditional (e.g., educator, financial officer, operations manager, information and technology staff), applicants will need to have the standard required education, knowledge, and skills and abilities that individuals in those types of jobs have in other industries/fields.

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4. What is the general annual salary for probation and parole officers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 edition, the median annual wages of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists in 2010 was $47,200. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,920, and the top 10 percent earned more than $80,750. For up-to-date general annual salary information visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics website at Higher wages tend to be found in urban areas.

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5. What kind of training is provided to probation and parole officers after they are hired?

The amount and type of training that new probation and parole officers receive after they are hired varies among agencies. Some agencies provide around 40 hours of pre-service training; however, some agencies may provide more or less depending on the mandates or policies for a given agency. Some departments develop and provide training for their new hires internally. Other departments send their new hires to a pre-service academy, sponsored by their local, state, tribal, or federal government, after which a certification test may be required.

In addition to formal classroom training, probation and parole officers also receive on-the-job training from experienced supervisors and officers. They are often required to work for a probationary period of up to a year before being certified for a permanent position. In some locations, probation and parole officers require peace officer certification, which requires peace officer training including firearms certification.

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6. Do probation and parole officers carry firearms?

The authorized carrying of concealed firearms by probation and parole officers varies by agency and jurisdiction. In some agencies, officers are mandated to carry firearms or they may voluntarily carry firearms. Often the types of offenders the officer supervises will determine whether or not they are authorized to carry firearms. Other jurisdictions specifically prohibit officers from carrying firearms. In addition, some jurisdictions approve the use of tasers, pepper spray and the use of handcuffs.

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7. Do probation and parole officers have the legal authority to make arrests?

The answer to this question varies across jurisdictions; however, many probation and parole officers are designated as peace officers and therefore have arrest powers. In most situations, the arrest authority is limited to offenders who are under supervision of their agency and have allegedly violated the conditions of their release.

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8. Is this kind of work dangerous?

Probation and parole officers work with criminal offenders, some of whom may be dangerous. While supervising offenders, probation and parole officers interact with many other individuals, including family members and friends of the person under supervision. At times these individuals may be angry or upset, or may pose barriers that make it difficult to interact. Often probation and parole officers are required to conduct home and employment visits and may be assigned to work in high-crime areas.

Probation and parole officers should be provided the necessary training to effectively and safely work with resistant and difficult individuals. Many agencies provide training that specifically addresses safety concerns, such as de-escalation strategies and self-defense skills.

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9. What is the nature of the work environment for probation and parole officers?

Probation and parole officers supervise probationers and parolees through personal contact with individuals and their families. Many officers meet probationers and parolees in their homes and at their places of employment or schools. Probation and parole officers also work in partnership with various community organizations that provide needed services for the individuals they supervise such as job training, substance abuse counseling, sex offender treatment, domestic violence counseling and mental health services.

Probation officers spend much of their time working with the courts. They complete investigations for the court, write presentence reports and formulate sentencing and release recommendations. They are also required to testify in court concerning an offender’s compliance with the terms and conditions of their sentence and when necessary, prepare violation reports for the court.

Parole officers perform many of the same duties as probation officers with the additional responsibility of reporting parolee violations to the designated releasing authority. Pretrial service officers conduct pretrial investigations, the findings of which help determine with offenders should be released before their trial and supervise them while awaiting the next court activity.

An officer’s activities are typically divided between time in court, time in the office meeting with offenders and completing necessary administrative tasks, and time in the field conducting home contacts, employment checks and meeting with community agencies that provide services to individuals on his/her caseload.

Probation and parole officers may work as a part of a team or a unit. In some settings, each officer may have a partner. In smaller jurisdictions, officers may work in one or two person offices and may have to travel relatively long distances to meet with their assigned offenders.

This is often not a 9-5 job. Probation and parole officers work a 40-hour week; however, they may be required to work evening and weekend hours, may have “on-call” responsibilities and may need to respond to after-hour situations.

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10. Are there opportunities for promotion?

Agencies are committed to retaining well-qualified employees and accomplish this by promoting from within whenever possible. Advancement is primarily based on experience and performance. A graduate degree, such as a master’s degree in criminal justice, social work, or psychology, may be helpful or required for some career advancement opportunities.

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11. How secure is a career in probation or parole?

The 2010/11 Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that employment of probation and parole officers is projected to grow by as much as 19 percent over the next decade. In addition to openings due to growth, many openings will be created by replacement needs, especially those resulting from the large number of current officers who are expected to retire in the foreseeable future.

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12. Do I need any special licenses or certifications to be a probation or parole officer?

There are no special licenses required to work in this field; however, some jurisdictions may require certain types of certifications such as passing a test following an academy training program or a probationary period. If the agency requires or allows officers to carry firearms, certification is required to carry a firearm.

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13. Is there an upper age limit for being a probation, or parole officer?

There are no age restrictions for most probation and parole officer positions in state, local or tribal agencies. However, those seeking jobs as probation and pretrial officers in the federal system can be no older than 37 years old at the time of their appointment.

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14. Is it possible to get an internship in a probation or parole office?

Yes, there are numerous opportunities for internships. Agencies make their own decisions regarding internships and the nature of the internships they provide. Since most of these are government agencies, paid internships are rare. Review the agency’s website or call an agency that interests you to determine if internships are an option and how to secure an appointment. Also consult with your academic advisor as they often work with local community corrections departments to arrange internship opportunities for students.

Another option is to determine if an agency has a volunteer program that would be a fit for you. If you are a student, check to see if your department or school has an internship coordinator who could be of assistance.

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15. Do I need a different kind of education or experience to work with juveniles?

Basically, the formal requirements of a position are similar regardless if your interest is in working with adult or juvenile populations. However, courses in delinquency, adolescent psychology or child development would be very helpful. Having experience working with adolescents is always beneficial.

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16. What type of experience do I need to get hired as a probation or parole officer?

Experience can be an important variable when seeking a position in this field – with some agencies even requiring a minimum level of experience working with a similar population. Where experience is not formally required, being able to list relevant employment or volunteer experience could give you an important edge when competing with other candidates.

Employers may look for people with experience demonstrating they can communicate well (verbally and in writing), work with people from diverse backgrounds, cope with a stressful working environment and handle multiple tasks simultaneously.

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17. If I have a criminal conviction in my past, will this disqualify me from employment as a probation or parole officer?

It depends. Some agencies have hiring restrictions based on past criminal records. Felony convictions will most likely be a disqualifier, although not universally. Agencies often look at misdemeanor convictions individually and make decisions based upon the nature of the offense, how long ago the offense occurred, and the number of prior offenses. Read the job posting carefully to determine if there are any factors that would preclude you from consideration.

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18. What if being a probation or parole officer is not right for me, but I would still like to work in community corrections?

There are many other career options in community corrections, including:

  • Shift supervisors and case managers in community-based halfway houses
  • Technicians for electronic monitoring agencies providing services to community corrections agencies
  • Chemical dependency treatment professionals (assessors, counselors, etc.)
  • Private probation agencies providing services such as restitution collection and monitoring low risk caseloads
  • Therapists and counselors (sex offender treatment, domestic abuse treatment, etc.)
  • Probation/Case Aides assisting officers with administrative tasks and offender monitoring

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19. How do I find out if there are any job openings in my city/county/state?

Check the following:

  • The job board in the Find Your Career section of this website
  • Local employment websites
  • Websites of specific agencies and departments
  • Local or regional periodicals/newspapers
  • Career planning department or employment assistance resources at your college or university

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20. Are you required to be enrolled in a federally recognized Indian Tribe when applying for tribal positions?

Not necessarily however, some tribes have enacted a Tribal Employment Rights Code. Tribal members can apply through their Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) to ensure preference in employment consideration. A certified copy of your Tribal I.D. or C.I.B. (Certificate of Indian Blood) may be required when submitting applications.

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