Over the weekend, a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of using a small quadcopter drone to smuggle an unknown quantity of illegal drugs into a prison in Melbourne, Australia.
While it's certainly not the first time small-fry UAV technology has been used by a mid-level mule to airmail drugs into the clink, it does suggest a growing trend in the highest-tech of prison highs. Here, then, is a brief history of drone-assisted prison drug smuggling.
In November 2013, guards at Hull jail in Gatineau, Canada, spotted a small drone flying over the prison's walls. An exhaustive search of both Hull's grounds and the immediate vicinity turned up nothing by way of whatever contraband the drone might have been toting around. Nevertheless, it didn't appear to be one-off incident
"This sort of thing happens often in prisons all across Quebec," Stephane Lemaire, president of Quebec's correctional officers' union, told the Ottawa Sun. "Usually the drones are carrying small packages of drugs or other illicit substances." The problem, Lemaire added, is that "the drone can be controlled from more than a kilometre away, and the [Hull] prison is surrounded by forest."
Mere days after the Quebec flyover, four people were arrested for trying to deliver a bunch of tobacco into the state prison in Calhoun, Georgia, via remote-controlled hexacopter. OK, so not technically an illegal drug. And yet, "It is a surprise," Sheriff Josh Hilton told the press. "I've never seen a helicopter."
Finaly, a few more details on the Melbourne incident. Shortly after the cops were called in to see about a small drone hovering over the Metropolitan Remand Centre, a man and woman were found nearby in a parked car. The man apparently was clutching the quadrotor, and had on his person a small amount of drugs, as the Guardian reports.
It's unclear whether the would-be delivery violated the guidelines of the Civil Aviation Authority, which say that uncertified drone operators must keep their drone 30 meters from people. But it is what David McCauley, acting industrial officer of the Public Service Association's prison officer’s vocational branch, believes is just the latest in a long line of increasingly crafty means used to move drugs over prison walls.
“At the end of the day if they can throw tennis balls over the wall with drugs in them, and with staffing levels the way they are, it’s going to be very difficult to stop these drones,” McCauley told the Guardian.
All of which is not to say that drones stand to outpace the desperately inventive smuggle-craft that keep prisons high. But it's clear now that as small-fry RC systems get cheaper and capable of handling heavier and heavier payloads, we might very well see smugglers taking to drones with increasing aplomb as a way to get the goods behind bars. One buzz for another.