Drones in prisons: Good idea or security issue?

There are many applications that drones could used for inside prison walls; does the technology have a place in corrections?

By C1 Staff

There’s been much talk about drones and prisons, mainly with the idea that drones are being used to smuggle or drop contraband into rec yards over prison walls and fences. But what about making that kind of technology work for us? Police officers in North Dakota now have drones equipped with less lethal devices, and others in both law enforcement and security are using drones for surveillance. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County once asked for drones to be used as surveillance over some of his facilities.

We took to Facebook to see how our readers felt about having additional eyes in the skies, or even elsewhere inside facilities themselves. Here’s what they had to say.


Police in North Dakota are now using drones armed with tasers. Do you think corrections should make better use of drones...

Posted by Corrections1 on Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Pros
Many of our readers were for using drones in prison surveillance, and also for documentation. The cameras affixed to drones would be similar to the security cameras already peppered about most correctional facilities, but would be more mobile. Readers liked the idea of placing such drones in the rec yard or along the prison perimeter for surveillance in addition to manned patrols.

“Drones in a yard would provide more of a deterrent for smaller facilities with blind spots in cameras,” Dustin Cunningham wrote.

Others liked the idea of armed drones. “Drones with flash bangs, concussion grenades or tear gas would be a smart idea,” Brandon Cook wrote. “That way officers can deploy them without being nearby or in harm’s way.”

“This would be wonderful for use during riots,” Karen Claise-Oost wrote. “There would be less injury to COs and possibly less rioting.” Drones would certainly give officers a leg up in riots, especially if inmates have blocked off or holed up in a corner of the prison that has now become inaccessible. This would allow administrators and leaders a view into the scenario before sending in front line staff.

The Cons
The main downside most officers saw was that, whether drones were armed or not, inmates would likely eventually get their hands on them. This would not only give them additional contraband to utilize; if the drones are armed, it could in turn arm the inmates and place officers at a serious disadvantage.

“I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but if something goes wrong and the inmates get ahold of the drone they will have whatever payload is onboard,” Brad Sydney pointed out.

Other issues were the additional cameras these drones would undoubtedly sport; many readers were concerned with the additional surveillance, which they believed administrators might use on them instead of the inmates. “I’m sure supervisors would have it in a flight pattern around their least favorite officers,” David Rogers wrote.

Another concern was the amount of noise drones make, which would make them easy to track and useless when it came to covert operations.

Many, though, were concerned with the amount of money it would take to not only purchase, but maintain and train officers on such surveillance equipment.

“With what funding? A better option is to acquire surplus jamming equipment from the military that would be able to block signals sent to drones along with block cell phone signals,” Kenneth Falconer wrote.

“Personally, I think they should be spending the money on us rather than the drones. But what do I know? I’m just a lowly CO,” Shad Harris writes.

What do you think about prison drones? Does this technology have a place in prisons? 

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