Drone technology is now used for everything from delivering packages to creating elaborate sky art for major events like the Olympic Games. Unfortunately for federal agencies attempting to combat illegal drug trafficking, they are now also used to traffic drugs into and out of prisons.
These drug trafficking schemes, called drone drops, are increasingly common in prisons across the U.S.
How do drone drops work?
Owners of often unregistered drones use unmanned aircraft to fly drugs and other contraband over the walls of prisons where they either drop the payload on the prison grounds or dangle it in front of prison windows. Drugs and contraband, such as cellphones and tobacco, are the most common payloads, but there have been cases where smugglers dropped wire cutters and other tools to aid prison escapes.
How are drone drops used for drug trafficking?
Commonly, drones drop valuable items, such as cell phones and prepaid Green Dot cards which allow recipients to operate large drug rings from within prisons. In some cases, smugglers drop only cell phones and cards, which the prisoners use to coordinate drug distribution outside of the prison.
Why do drone drop schemes work?
Prisons are not designed to defend against threats from the air, making it relatively easy for drones to penetrate their defenses. In some places, the problem is so common that spotting drones smuggling contraband into prisons happens daily.
Because many states do not have specific laws about smuggling contraband into prisons with drones, a patchwork of different laws is often used to prosecute these cases. However, violators can face serious charges with penalties of up to life in prison.