While not the chief worry of U.S. Department Of Corrections officials, smuggling contraband into prisons via drone is increasing in frequency according to new reports.
Corrections officials say that while not common, some would-be smugglers are experimenting with the method as an alternative to paying off officers, hiding contraband in laundry or throwing packages over fences.
Authorities have detected at least four drone smuggling attempts at corrections facilities in the United States in the past two years. In that period of time there were also at least four reported attempts internationally, including in Ireland, Britain, Australia and Canada.
In January of this year, guards found a drone with flashing lights on the ground inside a recreation yard at a prison in Bennettsville, South Carolina, according to investigative reports. The cargo was 55 grams of synthetic marijuana and a cellphone charger.
Corrections officials say they have no way of knowing how many attempts have been successful, but the warden in charge of the Lee Correctional Institute, Cecilia Reynolds, said that in recent weeks her officers found 17 phones in one inmate’s cell. She said she suspected that the phones continue to come in on unmanned aerial vehicles.
“We’ve got to do something about this — these cellphones are killing us,” she said.
Smartphones are desirable to prisoners because unlike pay phones at prisons, they are not recorded or monitored. The devices also allow them to watch pornography and communicate with fellow prisoners.
The phones are also critical for coordinating with smugglers using drones, because the prisoners need to know where to find the deliveries in the yard. Once a delivery is received the prisoners can then use the phones to electronically pay their suppliers.
While this may seem like an intractable problem, the solution is relatively simple: put a net over the prison yard. This approach was adopted in Montreal, Canada, after a daring escape in which a helicopter landed in the prison yard and picked up an inmate. The prison subsequently covered the yard in a mesh netting to avoid such tactics.
It's certain that U.S. jails will do the same, but the timeline is uncertain. Given the relatively small problem and the limited budgets of corrections facilities it may be some time before the nation's prisons implement this solution.