New GED program celebrates first grad

Criminal justice officials can’t seem to emphasize enough that education is key in reducing the number of what they call “frequent flyers.”

By Ann Powers

The term refers to offenders who make jail a revolving door by getting arrested, convicted and incarcerated time and time again.

Heather Elizabeth Moore

“Those who get their GED are less likely to have continued involvement with the criminal justice system,” said Kelly Officer, an Oregon Criminal Justice Commission (OCJC) research analyst.

Tillamook’s Heather Elizabeth Moore said she’s done with her ‘frequent flyer’ card and determined to make a better life for herself and her five-month-old son, Clyde Thomas.

“I was in and out of county jail a lot and then went to prison in 2014,” she explained. “I got out May of last year and haven’t been to jail since my release.”

Now, the 25-year-old single mother is the first General Educational Development (GED) graduate of Tillamook County Community Corrections’ Justice Reinvestment Program (JRP). She plans to go onto college to become a paralegal.

“I’m just trying to do the next right thing,” Moore said. “It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and it’s such a relief. It feels so good.”

OCJC data shows that nearly one-half of offenders in Tillamook County will be arrested for a new crime, 36 percent will be re-convicted and 20 percent will be incarcerated again after their release from jail or prison.

However, for every $1 invested in a basic or post-secondary educational program, there’s a benefit of $18. 36 for reduced recidivism and avoided victimization costs, according to a Washington State Institute for Public Policy report.

Lt. Holly Rico (L) and Probation Officer Ahnie Seaholm (R) join Justice Reinvestment Program GED graduate Heather Moore at her commencement ceremony, Sept. 21.

In 2013, a multi-million dollar grant allowed OCJC to begin developing the program. In 2014, the first allocation of the grant funds, $15 million, was distributed to Oregon’s 36 counties.

After completing all four GED modules, Moore took her final exam and passed. On Sept. 21, she had a surprise commencement ceremony at the county Probation and Parole Department – complete with all of the ‘Pomp and Circumstance.’

“They played the graduation song and had me walk down the hall to this room where the PO’s had surprised me with my son and my close friends,” said Moore. “They had balloons, cupcakes and flowers for me it was very sweet.”

And well deserved, according to Moore’s probation officer, Ahnie Seaholm.

“I’m very proud of Heather for her accomplishments,” said Seaholm. “I’m super excited we got (a student) through it and we have another (class) started. It opens up so many doors for these individuals.”

Heather Moore, of Tillamook, says getting her GED will help her make a better life for herself and her son, Clyde Thomas.

Officials said JRP’s goals include reducing recidivism, decreasing the county’s utilization of imprisonment in a state Department of Corrections institution, protecting the public and holding offenders accountable. Lt. Holly Ricco said the risk of re-offending in any community decreases with a lifestyle which is more stable.

“We identified the greatest needs in the areas of education, employment and housing assistance for local offenders,” said Lt. Holly Rico. “The Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office created an environment that allows students to study and progress in the program. (Moore) overcame many obstacles to gain her goal.”

In addition to her GED achievement, Moore said the experience also helped her realize a few of her hidden talents and strengths.

“I was surprised at how okay I was at science and I really enjoyed social studies,” she said. “I also had a baby in the mix. The whole thing has been a such a confidence booster.”