NY prisons confront national challenge of smuggling… by drone

July 24, 2017 11:32 PM

Convicts in New York prisons could be receiving air support in their efforts to smuggle contraband. The discovery of a crashed drone in the Auburn Correctional Facility in May was the latest sign of the growing trend of cons and their accomplices on the outside using drones to get past security measures.

“There have been reports from other states of drones carrying cell phones into a correctional facility,” said Joe Miano, vice president of the state’s Correction Officers and Police Benevolent Association.  “So, if they can carry a cell phone, they can carry some kind of a tool, possibly escape tools, or definitely drugs, or even a weapon.”

Miano said that while the drone that landed in Auburn was discovered, corrections workers were never able to establish what cargo it may have carried into the facility.

Corrections officials suspected supplies may have been smuggled in to a South Carolina prison in early July when convicted kidnapper Jimmy Causey escaped. Causey had been serving a life sentence and apparently broke out using wire cutters.  He was recaptured days after his escape.

A recent report from USA Today cited federal documents that listed a dozen attempts to smuggle contraband into federal prisons over the past 5 years, again using drones.

“It's actually pretty scary,” said Miano, who declared the trend a simple matter of cost. “Before, when the drones first came out, they were a $3000 item,” he said.  “Now you can get them for $60 to $100 for some of the cheaper ones. When someone's willing to spend $60, if it crashes, it crashes. You're only out $60."

“In all technology there's the good and there's always some portion that's the bad,” observed Brian Pitre, founder of Canandaigua–based SkyOp, which offers training in a variety of drone aircraft.

Pitre predicted rapidly expanding drone technology would revolutionize a wide variety of fields such as retail, construction, surveying and agriculture, but also confessed he was impressed at the ingenuity of those harnessing the technology to break into prisons with contraband. “I have really mixed feelings,” he said, “because, what I think is ‘it's pretty creative what they do.’   They see the technology from a different perspective than, say, commercial applications but they are inventive.”

Pitre noted that some technological fixes were already available to foil drones, such as frequency jamming systems which would make them impossible to control.  Non-technological counter measures, he said, included training birds like hawks to engage drones and bring them to the ground.

“We are going to see things evolve,” he predicted.  “The countermeasures… think it ultimately, will be much harder to do what's happening today. Many people refer to this technology today as being in the Wild West. And I think this is one great example of that.”



Charles Molineaux

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