By Isabel Togoh
Some of the UK’s most hardened criminals are being taught the importance of valuing others – by a pair of goats named Karen and Faye.
The most dangerous prisoners at HMP Swaleside – half of which are serving life sentences for the most serious crimes – are being encouraged to care for a feed the pygmy goats in an NHS-funded scheme.
The move has not been without critics, who have decried it a waste of taxpayers’ cash, but prison bosses have defended the cost and psychological benefits of the caprine residents at the Kent category B prison.
Prison governor Mark Icke said the initiative helped to combat apathy and depression among inmates serving long sentences, and helps them to develop a working routine which they can take with them on release, Kent Online reported.
“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,” Icke said.
Having an active work schedule is a robust predictor of positive mental healthMark Icke
He added that the goats, which cost £300 from a sanctuary in Essex, “don’t cost a lot to run”, dampening claims made by The Sun last month that the scheme was costing thousands.
Karen and Faye are also joined by two ducks, a beehive, and nine chickens – the newer ones being hatched and raised on prison grounds in its farm and garden area.
“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,” Icke added.
One of the prisoners said of the project: “It makes me feel good. I didn’t used to like myself but now I’ve got the whole world ahead of me.”
Prison inspectors are among the “several high-profile visitors” who have praised the project as “innovative”.
It comes as David Spencer of the Centre for Crime Prevention told The Sun last month: “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?”
In recent years, Swaleside has seen riot police sent in to break up an incident between a small number of prisoners in December 2017, with one inmate needing hospital care following a self-inflicted injury.
A year prior, 60 inmates seized control of part of a wing, lighting fires during the unrest.
NHS England said decisions made about prisoners’ mental healthcare were made by local prisons and health services.