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High up on the list of a prison security guard’s worst nightmare has to be a prisoner suddenly having a weapon delivered inside the prison grounds by a drone that can overcome the highest walls and prison security systems. 




According to statistics that came to light following a recent Press Association freedom of information request, the use of drones to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other contraband into prisons is on the rise. In 2013, there were no drones detected in or around prisons in England and Wales. Fast forward to 2015 and there were 33 recorded incidents. 

The locations where packages had been left by drones varied from inside prison grounds to just outside the perimeter. 

Zero tolerance approach


Whilst many incidents involved drugs, it’s not known whether these were psychoactive substances or not. What is clear though is that the Ministry of Justice is taking what it calls a “zero tolerance” approach. New legislation under the Psychoactive Substances Act has made it illegal to land a drone in prison or to use one to smuggle in psychoactive substances, which if caught can mean a sentence of two years. 

Deterring those from operating drones to deliver illicit packages into prisons is only a small part of the solution though. 

Mobile phones help to plot deliveries

 
In a report published by HM Inspectorate of Prisons just four months ago, it was made clear that easy access to illicit mobile phones within the secure estate means it is possible to plan precisely when and where to make a drone drop. 



Putting this into context, the government’s National Offender Management Service (NOMS) seized 7,451 mobile phones and SIM cards in prisons in 2013 alone, and there doesn’t appear to have been a dramatic change since then. 

Illicit mobile phone usage by prisoners is clearly a major cause for concern. So much so that David Cameron, in his speech solely on prisons last month, said:

“We are going to work with the mobile network operators to challenge them to do more, including developing new technological solutions so we can block mobile phones’ signals in prisons.”

An international fight 


The UK is not alone in its fight against drones though, or indeed mobile phones. The US is in a similar struggle, with its Justice Department looking to crack down on drones. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has already announced it’s looking at technologies that could detect the unmanned air vehicles, and even disable them. 

Meanwhile, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police has launched its very own Drone Squad. According to Popular Science, the squad will patrol no-fly-zones and “will search for the operators and order them to ground them”. If the operators do not do as instructed, large 10ft long police drones armed with cameras and nets will take the drones down!

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