Unmanned aerial aircraft systems (UAS), or unmanned aerial vehicles, pose a threat to correctional agencies throughout the world. This threat is not simply theoretical or merely plausible. There have been multiple incidents reported worldwide where handguns, cellphones, drugs, tobacco, pornographic DVDs, implements for escape and other contraband have been deposited on prison grounds by UAS-operating conspirators on the outside. This threat will only increase as UAS become more ubiquitous. According to UAVGlobal.com, there are 441 known UAS manufacturers worldwide. (1) Figure 1 shows the UAS sales forecast summary for the U.S. over the next five years, according to a recent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report.
Deported UAI incidents
UAS incidents at prisons have been reported in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Australia and the United Kingdom. In the U.S., correctional authorities in Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, New York, Virginia and several Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities reported UAS flyover incidents. It is unknown whether these flyover incidents involved innocent hobbyists or people with a more sinister intent. Many experts believe the actual number of corrections-specific UAS incidents is unknown and may be grossly underreported.
UAS flyover incidents create an adverse operational impact on facilities where incidents occur. These facilities have to be locked down and searched, which requires a significant amount of manpower and overtime costs to complete. In December 2015, a handgun was delivered via UAS to the Riviere-des-Prairies Detention Centre in Quebec, Canada. Mexico reported UAS drug deliveries, and in the U.S. UAS incidents involved contraband in multiple states, including California, Maryland, Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina and Oklahoma.
As depicted in Figure 2, UAS and contraband were intercepted by the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on Aug. 22, 2015, outside the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Maryland. A Yuneec Typhoon, a UAS-type vehicle, and contraband included tobacco, synthetic marijuana, prescription narcotics and pornographic DVDs. Investigators noted this particular UAS model has sufficient lift and payload capacity to deliver all of the contraband seen in the photograph, with the exception of the handgun found in the UAS operator's car.
The Georgia Department of Corrections reported the arrest of four individuals who conspired to use UAS to smuggle tobacco and cellphones into the Calhoun State Prison in November 2013. Two pounds of tobacco were confiscated from the car of the UAS operator. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) documented three separate UAS incidents. In January 2015, a UAS vehicle crashed at the Franklin Medical Center in Columbus. In May 2015, a UAS vehicle carrying six ounces of marijuana crashed inside the North Central Correctional Institution near Marion. In July 2015, a UAS carrying tobacco, marijuana and heroin deposited its payload at the Mansfield Correctional Institution and took off. This delivery of contraband inside the prison yard resulted in a disruptive incident as some inmates fought over the contraband and others created a diversion while some of the contraband was concealed.
In April 2015, officials at the South Carolina Department of Corrections reported a small UAS craft crashed in the bushes outside the Lee Correctional Institution in Bishopville. The UAS was carrying cellphones, tobacco, marijuana and synthetic marijuana.
Finally, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC) reported an incident in October 2015 where a UAS carrying two 12-inch hacksaw blades, a cellphone, a cellphone battery, two packs of cigarettes, 5.3 ounces of marijuana and multiple street drugs crashed at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. A second UAS incident was reported by ODOC in March 2016, when a UAS vehicle carrying three cellphones crash-landed at the Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing.