Drones pose new contraband, smuggling challenge for prisons

RINGFIELD, ILLINOIS: Inmates and their associates on the outside are deploying drones to deliver drugs, cellphones, and other contraband to US prison yards, leaving prison guards and correctional authorities puzzling over how to deal with the new technology.

After smuggling incidents around Maryland, Ohio and Oklahoma prisons last year, Illinois lawmakers are proposing legislation to penalize the activity, even though the state has yet to see such an incident. Wisconsin and Michigan also have pending legislation to criminalize the use of drones over prisons.

“It’s like anything, new technology brings new problems,” said Sen. Tim Bivins, a Republican sponsoring the Illinois legislation. Bivins’ bill would add an extra year of prison to inmates involved in bringing contraband into prison with a drone.

In Maryland in August, police said they arrested two men planning to use a drone to drop off drugs, pornography, and a cellphone into a prison. And in Oklahoma in October, prison officials found a drone that crashed on facility grounds with hacksaw blades, a cellphone, and heroin.
 Knowingly taking aerial images of a correctional institution would also be punishable with a felony charge under Bivins’ bill. Officials are concerned that drones could be used to plan escapes or other crimes by capturing videos or photographs of a prison’s layout.
 Tennessee is the only state with a law specifically relating to the use of drones over prisons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.