Sky Pirates: Proposal Would Ban Drones From Smuggling Prison Contraband

Taking aerial pics of lockups would also be prohibited.

Clockwise from left: A drone photographed by Flying Eye | Wikimedia Commons. SCI Graterford, Sen. Boscola, SCI Somerset.

Clockwise from left: A drone photographed by Flying Eye | Wikimedia Commons. SCI Graterford, Sen. Boscola, SCI Somerset.

Modern technology has revolutionized everything about our daily lives — including, officials fear, the act of sneaking (say) cigarettes to prisoners in lockup. No more bringing them in furtively past the guards: Now you can just fly the goods over the prison fence, drop them in the yard, and get out before anybody’s wiser.

That’s why State Sen. Lisa Boscola, a Bethlehem Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would make it illegal to use drones for smuggling contraband to inmates behind bars.

“Recent attempts to smuggle drugs, weapons, telecommunication devices and other illegal contraband into correctional facilities have been facilitated by drones and other types of unmanned aerial systems,” she wrote in a memo last week to colleagues. “These devices vary in size and exhibit advanced technologies.  There has been a sharp rise across several states over the past three years in the use of drones in smuggling instances.”

Boscola’s office did not immediately offer additional comment. A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections also did not immediately return a a call to confirm whether drone smuggling had occurred at any of the state’s prisons.

But the use of drones to bypass prison security is of growing national concern. The New York Times last year reported on the issue, offering the example of a South Carolina prison where inmates were able to receive drugs thanks to drone shipments.

“They were sending in smaller amounts in repeated trips,” Bryan P. Stirling, the director of the South Carolina Department of Corrections, told the Times. “They would put it on there, they would deliver it, someone inside would get it somehow, and they would send it back out and send more in.” reported last month that as many as 10 states are looking to make drone smuggling illegal.

“I would say it’s definitely not that widespread a problem right now,” Bryce Peterson, a research associate at the Urban Institute, told the website. “But it certainly seems like, down the road, this is something that could become a huge problem.”

Boscola’s proposal would also make it a crime to photograph prisons from the air — perhaps a little late, considering satellite images on Google Maps provide plenty of aerial view. An aerial view of at least one state prison, SCI Graterford, can be found the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections website.

Boscola sent the memo to colleagues last Thursday. No word on when she will formally introduce the bill.