ricardo-gomez-angel-162935
June 19, 2017

Criminals are using drones to airdrop drugs and porn into prison

Amazon is experimenting with drone delivery in hopes to ship your impulse buys through the air, but a much seedier group seems to have already mastered the craft-- much to the chagrin of law enforcement groups across the United States.

According to a report published this weekend by USA Today, drones have been used on at least a dozen occasions to smuggle contraband such as drugs, phones, and porn into multiple federal and state prisons since 2012, including incidents in the states of California, Maryland, and Ohio.

While several of the incidents were known to media outlets including The Washington Post and The Verge, others were uncovered in documents obtained by USA Today from the Department of Justice through a Freedom of Information Act request, the newspaper explained in its report.

In March 2015, a drone was used to deliver two cell phones to an inmate at a high-security federal prison in Victorville, California, and the contraband reportedly when unnoticed for five months. In 2016 three individuals, including a recently-released former inmate, were charged with using UAVs to smuggle drugs and porn into Maryland's Western Correctional Institution.

Similar incidents are also said to have taken place at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, California; Federal Correctional Institutions in Oakdale, Louisiana and Seagoville, Texas; and a prison in Ohio where a melee broke out after a drone dropped heroin in the exercise yard.

UK prison using a system that could prevent UAV deliveries

The drones being used in these smuggling operations aren’t high-tech devices, according to the Washington Post – they are commercially available UAVs that can be purchased for at stores or online for as little as $50. The problem, experts told USA Today, is that the anti-drone systems at prisons are currently inadequate to prevent such airborne deliveries.

“Civilian drones are becoming more inexpensive, easy to operate and powerful,” Troy Rule, an Arizona State University law professor pushing for stronger drone legislation, explained to the newspaper. “A growing number of criminals seem to be recognizing their potential value as tools for bad deeds.”

“We are trying to keep up with technology just like everyone else. So this is a huge challenge for all of us in corrections,” Stephen T. Moyer, secretary of public safety and correctional services in Maryland, told the Post. Following the incident in his state, Moyer asked for and was told he will receive $1.5 million in funding from the governor to test UAV detection systems.

In May, Les Nicolles Prison in the UK became the first to use a new system designed to prevent drones from flying over its walls, The Telegraph said. The device in question, called Sky Fence, is what is called a disruptor. It creates a 2,000 foot (600 meters) shield around the jail that causes a UAV’s systems to become jammed, blocks its frequency and control protocols, and makes the operator’s screen go black, the newspaper noted.

As Richard Gill, CEO of Sky Fence creator Drone Defence explained, “It disrupts the control network between the flyer and the drone. The drone then activates return to home mode and it will then fly back to the position where it last had a signal with its flyer. Someone described it as the final piece in a prison's security puzzle. I think it could have a significant worldwide impact.”

-----

Image credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel/Unsplash