Prison yards have spotlights and surveillance towers and barbed wire fences and security cameras to keep prisoners in—and soon, they might have drones too. Corrections officials in Ohio are looking into using drones to persistently monitor prison grounds in the state.
Of all the places for persistent surveillance to occur, prison is probably the best—there's already all of those previously-mentioned capabilities—but the thought of having a drone constantly hovering over prisons just seems a little too far, no?
In any case, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is at least looking into the idea: Tristan Navera of the Dayton Business Journal reports that prison officials attended a drone demonstration on Monday, with the idea of using unmanned aircraft to keep contraband out of the prison and to keep an eye on any prisoners trying to escape.
The demonstration was hosted by researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute and the Wright State Research Institute at the Wilmington Air Park. None of the researchers involved with the demonstration have gotten back to me yet, but a spokesperson with the prison system confirmed to me that officials did attend the demonstration.
She said the prison system and researchers at the universities "still have to have further discussions" before anything more formal is put into place.
The prison system would also have to clear the idea with the Federal Aviation Administration, which has issued certificates of authorization to several law enforcement groups to fly drones. But, so far, most of the drones we've seen law enforcement look into on the domestic side have been shorter-duration ones designed to fly for a half hour at most. They'd be used to assess a situation before an officer enters a dangerous scenario or to take photos or video of a particular suspect, with a warrant.
But the drone Ohio is reportedly looking at, the MLB Co. Super Bat (baseball, much?) can fly for 10 hours at a time. The idea would probably be to have a couple of these—or a couple batteries at least—so they could be flown around the clock. Alternatively, drones could potentially be used on a more limited basis to search for a missing prisoner—but with that kind of flight time, I'd bet on the former.
As far as I can tell, this idea is completely unprecedented. Homeland Security's Predator drones monitor the borders fairly regularly, but when it comes to prisons and drones, normally the aircraft are being used to smuggle drugs in, not monitor prisoners.
Groups like the ACLU have focused on prisoners' rights, but there's likely very little that could be done to legally prevent a corrections system from flying drones 24/7, as long as they got FAA approval.
Navera reports that flights could begin sometime this year.