While huge companies like Amazon test drone delivery systems, prisoners were already using the devices to get their own aerial shipments.
Documents obtained from the Justice Department by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed over a dozen attempts to transport contraband, such as mobile phones, drugs and porn, into federal prisons in the earlier five years. State facilities have also reported similar incidents.
Experts claim current anti-drone technologies fell short of protecting jails against the unmanned aerial devices that transport dangerous items, including firearms, which are dangerous to be used by inmates in prison.
“Civilian drones are becoming more inexpensive, easy to operate and powerful. A growing number of criminals seem to be recognizing their potential value as tools for bad deeds.” said Troy Rule, a drone legislation advocate and Arizona State University law professor.
According to the documents, a prisoner at the high-security federal prison in Victorville, Calif., hired someone to use a drone to smuggle in two cell phones in March 2015. Jail officials did not find out about the transfer of illegal goods for five months.
Similar incidents occurred at the United States Penitentiary in Atwater, Calif., the Federal Correctional Institution in Oakdale, La., and the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, Texas, the documents said. The Federal Bureau of Prisons kept details about other events, citing privacy and security issues.
Jail management consultant Donald Leach, who worked as a jail administrator for 25 years, said drones sneaking in contraband is a major threat and is totally banned in prisons.
“Traditionally some inmates would bribe the staff or visitors to bring drugs and other small items into jail illegally by hiding them in body cavities, etc.” he said.
“But drones have opened up the possibility of transporting much bigger and much more lethal items like guns into the facilities.”