Seneca County Jail celebrates first inmate to earn GED while still incarcerated

By Sheri Trusty, Seneca County Media Relations Coordinator

About a year and a half ago, the Seneca County Jail took the first steps toward establishing a program that would allow jail inmates to earn their General Education Diploma (GED) while still incarcerated. On May 20, 19-year-old Zachery Foster became the first inmate to pass the test and earn his GED while still in jail.

Seneca County Sheriff Fredrick Stevens, left, congratulates inmate Zachery Foster for earning his GED during a May 20 graduation ceremony. (Photo by Seneca County Administrator Barb Patterson)

The program is a revolutionary step for the Seneca County Jail as it seeks to equip inmates for success post-incarceration. Prior to the program, inmates could study for the GED while in jail but had to wait until they were released to take the test. The pause between learning and testing often became an obstacle, making it difficult for inmates to follow through and earn a GED.

“It is common for jails to offer GED programs, but it is extremely rare for a facility to offer the testing within their own walls, and for that we are very fortunate,” said Seneca County Jail Case Manager, Grace Morehart.

Offering GED testing inside the jail became a reality thanks to a collaboration with the GED service, Aspire.

“All of this was possible through the help of the phenomenal staff for Aspire, which is the GED service being utilized within the jail. Without Aspire, none of it would have been possible,” Morehart said.

Morehart was equally responsible for the program’s successful implementation.

“Our case manager, Grace Morehart, has worked hard to become a GED proctor to be able to provide this level of service in our jail,” said Seneca County Sheriff Fredrick Stevens.

Morehart is grateful for the opportunity to help inmates gain independence through a GED.

“Without the support of the administration and the Aspire program, I never would have been able to provide this opportunity to the inmates of Seneca County,” she said.

Foster attended GED prep classes for eight weeks with Seneca County Jail inhouse teacher, Melissa Blair.

“We are very proud of the eight weeks of hard work Zachery put in to complete his education and of all our staff members who worked with him to make it happen,” Stevens said.

Offering GED testing inside the jail is revolutionary not only for Seneca County but also for the surrounding area.

“There is no other jail in our area that has an employee proctor the GED test inside their jail facility,” Stevens said. “Studies have shown that the quicker the GED test is taken after the course work, the higher the percentage of passing.”

The program has changed the future for Foster and has the potential to affect the entire community.

“We realize the impact of this success extends far beyond the walls of our facility, which is why we’re committed to reducing recidivism and helping cultivate productive members and their reintegration to our community,” Stevens said.