HEARD the one about the city prison with penned up poultry? It’s called the henitentiary.
Perhaps more familiar with battery cages than iron bars, 19 hens and one rooster are now doing porridge with hundreds of prisoners at HMP Edinburgh – bringing a whole new meaning to the term jailbirds.
In a feathery first for Scotland, hens have been living in sheds built by inmates during their carpentry workshops and are cared for by female prisoners with help from officer Alan Jarvis, who hatched the idea.
The women assigned to the project were grilled by interviewers before being allocated roles and can gain City and Guild qualifications in animal care following a successful spell with the birds.
It is hoped the skills acquired will assist them in finding employment when they are released.
Every enrolled inmate visits the “henitentiary” at least three times a day where they feed the chickens, monitor their health and behaviour, and clean out the sheds.
Eggs laid by the chickens are cooked and eaten within the prison.
Mr Jarvis, an experienced chicken handler who has kept birds at his home for many years, 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 have noticed the sheds and inquired 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.”
It is hoped eggs could be distributed to the Edinburgh public in future, once the project is firmly established.
Governor of HMP Saughton Teresa Medhurst said: “We are committed to creating diverse learning opportunities for those in our custody at HMP Edinburgh, 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 for prisoners, 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.”