Drones dropping contraband like drugs and cell phones into prisons and jails has become a problem in Georgia. While state lawmakers have a proposal to make doing so a crime, that’s probably not going to fix the whole problem.
In the last year, the Department of Corrections has spotted about 300 drones over state prisons. That’s about 25 a month.
“And those are sightings. We’ve only captured 7 drones,” said Sean Ferguson, new technology project manager with the department.
He spoke to the Senate public safety committee on Monday. And those are just statistics for state prisons, not jails, Ferguson pointed out.
“It’s been a huge issue. We’ve been fighting this for years now,” he said. He said the department caught its first drone in 2014 in Calhoun, Ga.
He said it’s really hard to capture a drone, period because, “you’ve got the eyes in the sky that can see when law enforcement is coming.”
Plus, most of the drone activity happens at night. But right now, even if a drone is captured, there’s nothing in the penal code to prosecute with. There’s just a fine from the Federal Aviation Administration.
A new proposal by Republican State Senator Kay Kirkpatrick would make it a crime punishable by jail time.
“As you know, technology frequently gets ahead of the law,” Kirkpatrick said at the committee meeting. “And criminals also can get ahead of the law sometimes, so we need our law to catch up.”
Her bill also makes it a crime to intentionally record or photograph the prison from a drone.
Other states have done this too, since there’s no federal law, Ferguson said: “It hasn’t curbed it a lot, but it’s helped. Even a small 20 percent, that’s a help.”
“Maybe it’ll make a few more people think twice before they want to fly some drugs in, because there’s some definite [jail] time they’re going to get from this bill,” he said.
He cited one instance in South Carolina where a prison escape is believed to have happened thanks to tools dropped in by drone.
The committee and the Senate passed the bill unanimously this week. It will now move to the House.