In Echo Yard at Donovan prison, cells are racially integrated. Sex offenders and transgender inmates are housed with everyone else. Gangs are banned. So far, it has been so trouble-free that it requires only one-third the staffing of an ordinary prison yard.
Inside the experimental Echo Yard at California’s Donovan prison, classified by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as a “non-designated programming facility,” normal prison rules no longer apply, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. Cells are racially integrated. Sex offenders and transgender inmates are housed with everyone else. Gangs are banned. “The biggest thing about this place, what makes it unique in the state, is that this is where they put all politics aside,” said Capt. Eduardo Garza, Echo’s commander. “We don’t play by those rules any more. We don’t do Crips, Bloods, Mexican Mafia.”
Instead, all 780 inhabitants of this yard “program” are immersing themselves in courses designed to address a criminal past (anger management, victim awareness), law-abiding future (job hunting strategies, money management) and deep-seated pathologies (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Criminals and Gang Members Anonymous). Prisoners publish a monthly newspaper, perform in musical bands, raise service dogs for wounded veterans and autistic kids. There’s Saturday morning yoga, Thursday night art class, correspondence courses in geography, history and other subjects. All of this costs money, but Garza said Echo has been so trouble-free that it requires only one-third the staffing of an ordinary yard. Since opening in 16 months ago, Echo has challenged veteran inmates’ assumptions. Inmates at Donovan Correctional Facility can earn the right to be in a Non-Designated Programming Facility with good behavior, speaking with a counselor, attending classes, and performing jobs. Once inside Echo Yard, inmates can participate in a number of educational programs, with some of them preparing them for release.