Guards' hands are effectively tied in their response to drones coming over prison walls. In Mansfield, OH, a drone delivery of tobacco and drugs caused a near riot in a prison yard as inmates fought over the payload. In Cumberland, MD, officers had better luck, arresting two men in a car outside the Maryland state prison there. In the car were tobacco, pornography, and drugs — and a drone, reports Yahoo News.
These unmanned aircraft systems are clearly capable of delivering contraband over prison walls. Furthermore, it's hard to spot them, much less find out who is controlling them.
Worse, when it comes to policing the problem at federal prisons, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BoP) is severely handcuffed. Despite having tons of shotgun-armed guards at its prisons, the bureau can't simply shoot down any drone that happens to appear near a prison; the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't allow it.
Guards can't blast drones with radio waves to interfere with the control signals from their operators either: Intentional interference of that sort is illegal, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
All of which is why the BoP has issued an RFI (request for information) looking for a solution.
The RFI — a preliminary step before the agency actually hires someone to implement a solution — is soliciting ideas that will help the BoP detect and neutralize drones trying either to conduct surveillance of prisons and the areas around them or to deliver contraband (such as weapons, drugs, or pornography).
Still, the agency does have some options. The law does not prohibit the deployment of sensors at prisons to alert guards that a drone is approaching. Nor does it prohibit sensors that would detect a drone launch at its source. This could allow law enforcement to get to the site of the drone launch and arrest those involved.
And, it should be stated, sending a drone into a prison does violate a long list of federal laws and, if it's a state prison, state laws as well.