Drone delivery activity booming to global… prison inmates

drone deliveries contraband prison

Increasing use of drones for business and pleasure has been adopted in a few places people might not have expected. Prisons, for example, where sightings of drones delivering contraband have skyrocketed in recent months around the world.

Canada’s jailers sound alarm over drone invasions

The latest flurry of reports of drones infiltrating banned prison grounds have come from Canada – particularly, Quebec’s Donnacona penitentiary. The jail is described as maximum security, but guards and other correctional service officials have called that a misnomer when it comes to drones. The craft, they complain, seem to come and go almost at will, making deliveries of illicit goodies that include cellphones, arms, and drugs (including, but by no means limited to, tobacco). A single sweep of the premises in May netted smuggled contraband worth nearly $30,000.

According to a report by Radio Canada, drone traffic in and out of Donnacona is considerable. Concerned correctional authorities warn their guards identify and/or intercept over hundreds inbound drones per year. Weekly flights average between two to three, they say ­– noting the reality is probably even worse.

“What scares us are the ones we can neither detect nor see,” says Frédérick Lebeau, president of Quebec’s largest prison guard unions. “There may be five, six of those – we don’t know. It’s becoming a real problem.”

He says radar systems used at Donnacona may not pick up all drones. Many that are spotted, meanwhile, leave their loads before they can be downed. Inmates have also become adept at scooping up and hiding contraband dropped into the yard. Some prisoners have gotten so audacious they take charge of incoming goods from drones landing on their window sills. 

“The prisoners have found a way of removing the… entire structure of the windows, (and) receive deliveries straight to their cells,” laments Lebeau. Even Uber Eats can’t do that.

Prisons around the world battling illegal drone deliveries

The union is demanding better radar and other technology be brought on site to battle the scourge – including, perhaps, drone-mitigating applications. Canada’s prison administration says over $5 million will be invested in that way in coming years. Evidence, however, suggests it may be in vain.

Drone deliveries to penitentiaries are surging in many countries. Several US states have warned about escalating infiltration by craft. French jails have similarly reported two to three drone delivery flights per week. The UK formed a special panel in 2017 dedicated to turning back the tide of drones flying into the nation’s prisons – without resounding success.

So just how big a pain is the airborne crime of breaking into jails? The tiny Anglo-Norman island of Guernsey (population 64,000) felt compelled to install a high-tech electric “fence” that both detects and disables drones trying to near its prison. 

The Guernsey hoosegow has a maximum capacity of under 150, and currently houses less than 70 inmates. Whatever incoming drones are delivering must be really, really bad..

Photo: Radio Canada

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