Published: 00:01, 10 January 2019
Bosses at a Sheppey jail have defended the use of pet goats to help some of its most dangerous prisoners.
Swaleside's category B prison at Eastchurch is using NHS England money to fund a farm behind bars for inmates of its Offender Personality Disorder Unit.
Men are encouraged to feed and care for pygmy goats Karen and Faye to teach them responsibility for others.
It is believed the sessions help prisoners, who have mental health problems, learn to work together and develop trust.
But David Spencer of the Centre for Crime Prevention told The Sun: “It beggars belief that anyone would think this is a reasonable use of resources.
“Category B prisons house serious criminals.
"Does anyone really think that petting a few goats is going to keep them on the straight and narrow?”
Harry Fone of the TaxPayers’ Alliance added: “Equipping inmates with skills to get work on the outside is one thing but wasting taxpayers’ cash like this really takes the biscuit.”
The Sun claimed the scheme was costing thousands.
But prison governor Mark Icke said: “The goats cost £300 from a sanctuary in Essex. They don’t cost a lot to run either as they eat the grass and bushes.”
He added: “The goats form part of a broader horticultural project which includes two ducks, nine chickens and a beehive.
“The first chickens came from a battery farm and were in a very dishevelled state and close to death.
"The newer ones were hatched and raised here.”
The farms and gardens project encourages inmates to maintain the area, care for the animals and grow produce which is cooked and eaten on the wing in communal meals.
Mr Icke explained: “It provides a pathway of psychologically-informed services for a highly complex and challenging offender group which is likely to have severe personality disorders and who pose a high risk of harm to others or a high risk of reoffending in a harmful way.”
"It provides a pathway of psychologically-informed services for a highly complex and challenging offender group which is likely to have severe personality disorders and who pose a high risk of harm to others or a high risk of reoffending in a harmful way" - Mark Icke
He said the farm work helped combat apathy and depression from long prison sentences and prepared the men for “a positive working routine on release.”
Mr Icke continued: “Having an active work schedule is a robust predictor of positive mental health and wellbeing which is an important outcome for men within our services.”
He said the project helped prisoners learn to “work together with staff and other residents” and to “develop trust and a sense of belonging to the community.”
He added: “Our farms and gardens area has had several high-profile visitors over the past year, all of whom have spoken positively of it.
"It was recently visited by prison inspectors who gave very positive feedback and said it was highly innovative.”
One prisoner said it gave him a sense of hope, adding: “It makes me feel good. I didn’t used to like myself but now I’ve got the whole world ahead of me.”
Another said: “It’s so nice to stand there and look at the vegetables growing. It’s like 'wow, man'.”