Forget the cake: Drone flies contraband metal saws into a French jail

drone contraband jail

Another day, another drone attempt to illegally fly contraband into a jail somewhere on earth. This time the Big House involved was in the French city of Nîmes, where outside accomplices respected the inmate tradition of smuggling bar-cutting tools into the prison – this time using an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) instead of a cake.

Nîmes facility most recent target of drones flying contraband into jails

News of the failed drone flight of contraband into the Nîmes jail came from the UFAP-UNSA union representing guards at the facility. According to their communiqué this week, the UAV making the illicit delivery was neither intercepted nor otherwise thwarted in its mission, but simply crashed on its own. Employees at the facility found the conked-out craft in the northern yard of the prison on the morning of August 9. Splayed out beside it was a payload of wiring for cell phones, material for a water pipe, and several metal saw blades – all of which (it goes without saying) are prohibited in the brig.

“The easily concealed blades can saw through just about anything, so long as you put enough time into it,” the union’s communiqué said. “Time isn’t something our inmates are lacking, and that’s what is making us particularly worried.”

Though details were few, officials did say the drone that failed in its contraband flight to the jail was relatively heavy, which may have been a factor in the pilot losing control. The weighty payload may have been an aggravating factor, especially the metal saw blades. Mixing irony into its alarm at the discovery, UFAP-UNSA linked the drone flight to a generally degrading situation in the jail as it awaits long overdue renovation.

“The time is high for work in our establishment to be carried out,” the union quipped, “but it’s impossible to imagine these tools were intended to contribute to that renovation.”

As has been the case with international peers reporting a spike in UAVs attempting illegal prison deliveries, workers at the Nîmes penitentiary are less worried about the ones they prevent than those that succeeded without detection. They suspect undetected flights have been responsible for the uptick in banned material they’ve uncovered in their facility, and fear future missions will one day manage to ferry in “explosives, drugs, or entire mobile phones.”

Drone transport of contraband into jails have risen worldwide, feeding booming resale markets among inmates. Recently, a single bust in a Canadian penitentiary bagged $300,000 in illicit loot. Canadian guard unions say their members detect an average of two flights per week, with successful deliveries perhaps matching or exceeding those numbers. Some French prisons have reported as many as three weekly attempts, and incidence rates are rising throughout the US incarceration system as well. 

Jailers around the globe blame the increase in part on Covid-imposed reductions of outside visitors inmates have been allowed to receive over the past 18 months. That with those potential person-to-person exchanges of contraband strictly limited, they say, use drones has become a favored alternative.

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