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The Cable

Want to Smuggle Drugs into Prison? Buy a Drone.

Drones are being used to smuggle contraband into prisons around the world.


Joyce Mitchell, the New York prison seamstress who helped Richard Matt and David Sweat escape in June, recently pleaded guilty to smuggling hacksaw blades to the two killers in frozen hamburger meat. But who needs a prison patsy when you can use a drone?

That’s what happened at the Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio on July 29. According to an incident report provided to Foreign Policy by JoEllen Smith, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, 144.5 grams of tobacco, 65.4 grams of marijuana, and 6.6 grams of heroin were dropped onto the prison grounds by an unmanned plane that afternoon. The news was first reported by the Mansfield News Journal.

Here’s what went down, according to Smith’s report: On July 29, at 2:33 p.m., a fight broke out in the prison’s north recreation yard. Security footage reviewed after the incident revealed a drone flew over the yard and dropped its contraband immediately before the melee began. The loot was tossed over a fence into the prison’s south recreation yard by an inmate. The package was later found in an equipment room. It’s still not clear who was operating the aircraft. The report indicates the incident took place on July 27; Smith said it was a mistake, and that it occurred on July 29.

Drones are best known for their military uses. But, increasingly, they’re finding their way into mainstream American life — and, it seems, into the skies above American prisons.

In 2013, Amazon announced it would explore delivering goods with them. In February, the Federal Aviation Administration released draft rules for drones weighing 55 pounds or less that opened the door for more widespread, commercial use. In May, the Secret Service has also had to respond to a drone flying over Lafayette Park near the White House. A worker from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency crashed one onto White House grounds earlier this year.

And using drones to smuggle goods into prison is apparently becoming a thing. There have been documented incidents in Brazil, South Carolina, Ireland, Greece, Russia, Switzerland, and Australia, according to CBS News. In 2013, four men were arrested in Georgia for allegedly using a drone to smuggle tobacco into a state prison in Calhoun.

Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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