Chickens are starting to become popular in prisons. From Edinburgh to Dartmoor, they are having a beneficial effect of those ‘doing bird’

Keeping chickens has worked wonders at the prison in Edinburgh, where there are 19 laying hens and one cockerel.

The free range birds are cared for by female prisoners and by Alan Jarvis, the regimes officer, who came up with the chicken plan.

The chicken sheds were built by prisoners in the jail’s carpentry workshop. Mr Jarvis said: “I thought it was an ideal project to introduce in the prison, as it had so many potential benefits for both the prisoners and the establishment at large.

“We have already seen the positive impact on the wellbeing of the women taking part, and we’ve had great feedback from visitors to the prison who’ve noticed the sheds and enquired about our new feathered residents.

“I’m very keen to expand the project in future to include benefits for the community, for example by selling the eggs through our visitors’ centre.”

The women assigned to the project were selected after interview. They will have the opportunity to gain City and Guild qualifications in animal care.

The eggs produced by the chickens are used in the prison’s life skills workshops, which teach inmates how to cook.

Animal care

One of the inmates working on the project is a woman from the Czech Republic, who has been in prison for two years. She said: “It’s a great experience. I’ve been learning loads of new knowledge and a new skill.

“(The birds) have got such a therapeutic effect on you so it’s brilliant. It puts more light into every day.”

Prison governor Teresa Medhurst said: “We are committed to creating diverse learning opportunities for those in our custody to encourage them to unlock their potential and transform their lives.

“The introduction of the poultry project is the perfect example of a purposeful activity which teaches skills, empathy and responsibility.

“The chickens are already a firm favourite in the prison, and I’m hopeful that under Alan’s expert supervision, the project will continue to spread its wings and benefit the wider community as well.”

At Dartmoor, a former dog compound has been converted into a chicken pen by inmates and is now home to some former ex-bats. “When the hens arrived they were bald and daylight-shy,” said prison officer, John Northam. “But they’ve since gone on to make a terrific recovery.”

Your Chickens writer, Emma Inglis, who lives nearby, went to have a look. “The chickens are part of a horticultural rehabilitation project hich has been very successful. Not only has it transformed some very grim spaces but it has also fostered new skills,” she said.

The chickens pay for their own upkeep – as the eggs are sold in the prison museum shop.

Other prisons have taken in chickens too: Holloway, a prison for women, has re-homed 20 battery hens.

“Poultry keeping in prisons looks set to grow as more prisons recognise the benefits,” says Emma. “You only have to see the inmates with the birds to realise that hen keeping is such a therapeutic activity which teaches empathy, responsibility and equability. I envisage there being many more chickens in prisons up and down the country soon.”

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