Chickens at WCCW Lay Foundation For Inmate Healing, Rehabilitation
March 29, 2016
GIG HARBOR – The nine chickens Teresa Settle cares for may be the most secure hens in the country.
They’re housed in sturdy chicken coops, behind fences topped with concertina wire, inside a prison staffed with highly-trained correctional officers.
The plump fowl are also spoiled. Inmates and staff alike dote on the chickens, naming each one. They proudly note the Washington Corrections Center for Women, (WCCW) may be the only prison in the nation with its own brood of laying hens.
“It’s therapeutic,” Settle said about working with the chickens. “You just feel better. You become friends with them.”
That’s what bringing the chickens to the prison was all about, along with benefitting from their poop and eggs, said Paula Andrew, a human resource consultant assistant at the prison. She calls herself, “the chicken lady.”
Andrew, who raises chickens at home, worked with the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) to secure seed funding for two coops on wheels that can be carted around the prison, along with nine chickens. The poultry was brought to the prison from a nearby farm in June 2015.
The idea is to bring science and nature into prisons and connect inmates to the larger world of conservation and sustainability.
“The main objective, as part of the sustainability project, is to use the chicken manure in our garden. But it’s more than that. The inmates are embracing it more than we ever thought they would,” Andrew said, adding, “They are learning a lot about chickens.”
Settle and another inmate, who wear “Chicken Tender” badges, care for the chickens. They feed the birds and move the coops around to different gardens inside the prison.
The mobile coops are easily wheeled around. The inmates periodically place them on different garden rows. The chickens scratch the dirt, loosening the soil. They also eat insects harmful to plants, and their waste fertilizes the soil.
Inmates and staff noticed that plants were healthier and grew larger where the chickens coops were used, compared to gardens where the chickens had not been used. Last year, the prison’s gardens grew more than 14,722 pounds of produce that was used in the WCCW kitchen.
You can tell a chicken is happy when it lays eggs, Andrew said, and their hens do so every day. Currently, all the eggs are donated to a local food bank.
Inmates in the prison’s Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching (TRAC) program, which trains inmates for careers in fields such as carpentry and construction, even built a third coop for the chickens to provide them more room.
“Some inmates came to us and said the chickens are crowded and they need more space. I tended to agree with them even though the farm (the chickens came from) said you can have up to eight chickens in a coop,” Andrew said.
Settle said inmates will frequently drop by when she’s tending the hens.
“They’ll ask a lot of questions like ‘I see them laying eggs, how come we don’t have baby chickens?’ and I tell them ‘we don’t have a rooster,’ ” Settle said. “This is stuff they don’t know.”
Settle, who said she grew up around farm animals, including chickens, observed that many inmates at the prison “have never seen a farm animal. So it helps educate them about sustainability issues, like how the earth is all connected. It’s a really good learning project.”
Settle said she plans to raise chickens herself when she’s released in 2018. “I’ve already drawn this out and told my husband and son that you guys are building me a moveable chicken coop,” she said.