DoJ documents detail prison smuggling via consumer drones

Anti-drone technologies are failing to stop drones from smuggling content into prisons, according to Department of Justice documents, which reveal more than a dozen attempts to use drones for prison smuggling, as well as successful efforts. Drones are being used to deliver cell phones, drugs, and more to prisoners by dropping the items onto prison grounds. Though anti-drone technologies exist, they appear insufficient for stopping the smuggling.

The information comes from Department of Justice documents made available under a Freedom of Information Act request from USA Today. According to the docs, smugglers have been repeatedly successful in getting a variety of objects to prisoners via readily accessible consumer drones, including pornography, drugs, money, and cell phones.

One case, as an example, successfully used a drone to smuggle in two cell phones to a prisoner, who then retained use of the phones for nearly half a year before being caught. The value of smuggled items can span into thousands of dollars.

Speaking to USA Today on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons, one spokesman states that drones are becoming an increased threat to prisons. The issue is forcing agencies to work harder at developing suitable anti-drone technologies that can stop the drones before they arrive.

Present anti-drone technologies include things like large guns that fire nets, as well as patrol drones that launch nets at drones they encounter. Both of those technologies, however, are dependent on the smuggler's drone being spotted, something that is difficult due to consumer drones' small sizes...something made especially hard at night, when drone attempts are often successful.

We recently saw one anti-drone technology go live at a prison in the Channel Islands, and it may prove an adequate solution for prisons around the world. This particular system works by creating a sort of 'force field' around prisons through which drones cannot pass. When a drone enters the field, it loses communication with its operator, causing it to default back to the last position where it had connectivity. As such, the drone will eventually hang around just outside of the force field, never proceeding fully into the prison grounds.