A Dorset prison has recently adopted 150 laying hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust (BHWT) as a way of improving emotional wellbeing for the men.

The innovative project being run at HMP Guys Marsh has seen the hens saved from slaughter and rehomed at the prison by the charity.

Guys Marsh is a Category C prison holding up to 450 men, some of whom have committed serious crimes. Wayne Walters, livestock and project management instructional officer, has been with the prison for 14 years and, as a result, has dealt with almost everything prison life could throw at him.

Having worked in prison wings containing dangerous men, Wayne felt inspired to try something different which may help the men cope with life inside prison, as well as aid their rehabilitation after their release.

And so Project Jail Bird was hatched, using ex-commercial laying hens facing slaughter to show residents another side to prison life. With the help of Prisoner J (who cannot be named for legal reasons), but without a shred of carpentry skills between them, Wayne turned an unused area of the prison into a hen heaven, complete with handmade flower boxes crafted by prisoners which sat on the outside of a newly erected coop.

The prison initially adopted 49 hens from the BHWT but, after seeing how quickly they flourished and how it helped improve wellbeing (not to mention the number of eggs they laid!) Guys Marsh soon welcomed another 150 hens, all of whom are now enjoying regular dust baths and long, lazy snoozes in their new coops.

The laying hens had been living on a commercial farm laying eggs to be sold in supermarkets or put into processed foods, and had reached the end of their commercial life at 18 months old.

Jane Howorth MBE and Founder of the BHWT personally delivered the 150 birds to Guys Marsh with the charity’s head of operations, Gaynor Davies, to their new home behind bars.

Jane said: “What really struck me was the effort that both Wayne and Prisoner J had put into Project Jail Bird. They have created a fantastic facility for hens out of wasted space, and in so doing have given the prisoners at Guys Marsh the opportunity to learn new skills, and of course give the hens a wonderful second chance in life.

“The charity has supplied hens to almost a dozen prisons across the UK and I wholeheartedly support Wayne’s initiative seeing only benefit in rolling out the model across all UK prisons.”