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States Implementing New Technology to Fight Contraband Smuggling Via Drone

by Monte McCoin

Prison Legal News has reported several times on the trend of prison contraband smuggling via remote-controlled aerial drones, both in the U.S. and other countries. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2018, p.14; Nov. 2017, p.52; Sept. 2016, p.18].

South Carolina Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Bryan Stirling announced on May 28, 2018 that the department was implementing a new technique to combat illicit drone activity – it would use its own fleet of drones to conduct 24-hour surveillance of prison yards.

“You are seeing us use technology to survey our prisons from the sky. We are going to show up if people are coming into our prisons up to no good. There’s a great potential that we are going to see them,” Stirling said. He added the DOC was even using drones that had been confiscated in previous smuggling attempts to “fight fire with fire.”

He explained the department had hired two former military drone pilots to randomly rotate among the state’s 21 prisons and man the controls for day and night surveillance of the perimeter and grounds of each facility. The drone cameras have night-vision and heat-sensitive capability; when there is suspicion of a person in a prohibited area, the pilots alert guards who can quickly investigate.

According to officials with the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the South Carolina DOC’s drone program is the first of its kind in the country.

“I think you’re seeing the future of corrections, right here,” Stirling stated.

The Georgia Department of Corrections is taking a different approach to the problem of security breaches via drone. In December 2017, it installed a drone detection system distributed by prison phone contractor Securus Technologies.

AeroDefense’s AirWardenTM radio-frequency-based drone detection system “is the only system that just worked from the very first demo,” said a Georgia DOC spokesperson. “The low false alarm rate and location information about a drone and pilot are both extremely valuable.”

Securus plans to install AirWardenTM systems at other prisons with which the company contracts. “Contraband delivery via drones is a threat to both corrections staff and inmate safety,” a Securus spokesperson noted. “In response to our customers’ needs to mitigate this threat, we conducted an exhaustive market review of available drone detection technologies and determined AeroDefense’s RF drone and pilot detection system is the most effective, affordable solution available. Combined with our market-tested Wireless Containment Solution, we offer a thorough deterrent to the introduction of contraband cell phones into the prisons we serve.” 



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