Drones smuggling contraband into correctional facilities is still a major problem. An Associated Press story notes that following a deadly prison riot at Lee Correctional Institution, officials took counter-drone measures:
Since the riot, numerous security improvements have been implemented across the prisons system and specifically at Lee, including…systems to detect cellphones and drones, which could be used to ferry in contraband.
DroneDJ, a site with its finger on the pulse of the latest developments in the drone and counter-drone ecosystems, also recently took note of the rogue drone scourge plaguing prisons:
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.
And back in June, Montreal police arrested two suspects after a drone was spotted flying over the walls of Bordeaux Prison. Officers arrived and saw two men standing nearby. The suspects ran, but were eventually apprehended. CBC News notes: “According to Radio-Canada, 32 drones have been spotted flying over the Bordeaux Prison since 2013…”
Despite the widespread and serious nature of this problem, many prisons still have not invested serious planning or resources into stopping rogue drones. The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) called efforts by Correctional Service Canada (CSC) to stop smuggling into prisons via drones “insufficient.”
The CSC has pledged to install advanced radar equipment for drone detection, but this step obviously does not address rogue drone mitigation, which is subject to relevant regulations and authorities on a per-country basis:
“Once a drone is detected, how will we get our hands on the package before the inmates do?” asks Frédérick Lebeau, Quebec Region President of UCCO-SACC-CSN. “For now, CSC is dragging its feet: there have been preliminary discussions about securing cell windows and putting roofs over the prison yards, but nothing more. If no effort is made to intercept packages, the radar won’t do much good.”
Meanwhile, Urban Air Mobility News reports that last year in Bavaria, “special rifles” were provided to prison officers to shoot drones that got close to prisons. But this kinetic solution can only be applied to drones that officers manage to detect, and it requires clear line-of-sight, which is often not available at large correctional facilities. Perhaps it was these concerns that caused Sebastian Brux, spokesman for the country’s justice administration, to state, “There are doubts as to whether these launchers are of any practical use,” according to Urban Air Mobility News.
So, what is the correct counter-drone solution for correctional facilities? Prison officials should look for an integrated, end-to-end solution that can handle both rogue drone detection and mitigation (again, subject to regulations), greatly reducing the chance of human error. Because communications systems are vital at a prison, the counter-drone system should not feature jamming technology as a main component. Also, some prisons today utilize drones to monitor the prison grounds and work performed by inmates. An ideal solution should distinguish between authorized and unauthorized drones.
Most importantly, an optimum solution for detention centers would facilitate full control, enabling officers to capture the drone, confiscate the contraband and reap the benefits of the intelligence the drone will provide, without disrupting operational continuity of the prison.