Prisons, contraband, and why proactive drone detection may just be the answer

Prisons, contraband, and why proactive drone detection may just be the answer

It only takes a simple search of ‘prisons and drones’ to discover that the two have been involved in a cat-and-mouse game for almost a decade. With first-page headlines like ‘dangerous drone gang flew drugs into Cheshire prison for inmates to sell,’ Drone Contraband Deliveries Are Rampant at US Prisons’ and ‘Illicit drone delivery of contraband to global prisons soared in 2022’.  

Drones pose several unique risks to prisons – dispensing contraband, conducting unsolicited surveillance, and security breaches and distractions. In May 2022, one notable incident attempted to deliver illicit substances and contraband worth £35,000 into a UK prison. 

Now, nearing the end of 2023, incursions like these are only continuing to rise. As the Ministry of Justice comments: 

Between 2019 and 2021, 504 drones were either sighted, intercepted or seized around prisons in England and Wales, and police and prison staff have worked together to help secure more than 70 convictions since June 2016. Those sentenced are serving more than 240 years in prison. 

In an escalating battle against criminal networks employing drone deliveries, one new piece of legislation – going live in January 2024 – is the latest in a series of defensive measures. 

Introducing no-fly zones 

Coming into effect on the 25th of January 2024, new measures will create a 400-metre ‘no-fly zone’ around prison sites.  

Flying a drone without express permission inside these zones is an automatic offence, with consequences ranging from a £2,500 fine to up to 10 years imprisonment. 

As well as acting as a significant deterrent, this new legislation will help rapidly close the window of vulnerability and enhance overall security with an increased level of visibility, all while preventing unauthorised surveillance or accidental damage and disruption. 

Speaking on these new measures, the then Prisons Minister Damian Hinds said:   

This is the latest step in the war we are winning to stop drugs, weapons and phones getting into our prisons. 

However, while this new legislation should be commended, it can also be combined with sophisticated drone detection solutions. Taking advantage of greater situational intelligence, sites can adopt a robust approach to drone incursions, collate and record drone flight data, helping to mitigate risks in the process.  

Responding to evolving drone capabilities. 

It’s no secret that commercially available drones only promise to evolve further – developing innovative ways to fly faster and carry heavier payloads, all for a longer duration. This leaves sites in a wide range of industries, from stadiums to prisons, with a similar challenge: 

How do you quickly increase their security against evolving threats, without making their investments redundant in the future? 

While current security measures have been responsible for multiple prosecutions and convictions, drone incursions present constantly changing challenges. Robust security ecosystems, and other countermeasures, must also adapt to the latest capabilities.  

The key? Combine scalable tools that are fully capable of being tailored to the latest drone models, all while reinforcing sites with greater legislation and regulation around drone flights.  

Drone Alert Service, and a proactive stance 

While the introduction of no-fly zones signifies one type of proactive approach, advanced drone detection tools are another. 

These tools help users accurately understand site-specific risks, and effectively deploy responses based on the most up-to-date data available.  

Drone detection tools, like our Drone Alert Service (DAS), provide affordable solutions for sites of any size. Using DAS, a major UK category B prison identified 75 drone flights in 6 months. Historical data analysis revealed 6 drones frequently flying over the same area, highlighting potential risks.” – Sam Lowe, OSL Business Development & Marketing Manager 

DAS provides users with a scalable, flexible, and intuitive online approach to real-time drone detection. The first of its kind in the UK, DAS removes the need for any hardware installation on site, equipping users with comprehensive insights into current aerial activity, and previous drone behaviour trends, to help enable robust and responsive countermeasures.  

Using tried-and-tested technologies, DAS helps prisons navigate a wide range of drone-related challenges. Some of these technologies include: 

  • Detecting small and quiet drones across complex environments, giving advanced warning of their presence in the process. 
  • Providing real-time alerts the moment a drone enters a specified perimeter, enabling personnel to respond to incursions as soon as possible and close the window of vulnerability. 
  • Identifying not just the drones, but the pilot’s location too – informing responses that prosecute pilots before they can leave the area. 
  • Using historical data to establish a pattern of use for a single drone when it is used multiple times – data that can also be used to detect the same drone elsewhere. 
  • Identifying the take-off locations of drones, which can be used to locate the potential staging areas used by offenders. Using this data, prisons can coordinate enhanced mitigation strategies. 
  • Aiding prosecution and sentencing by supplying data such as drone serial numbers and pilot locations, to be used as evidence in legal proceedings. 
  • Acting as a valuable deterrence for any drone pilot considering flying drones in or around no-fly zones.
    By combining tools such as DAS with this new legislation, prisons can continue to increase their proactive approach to combatting the rising risk of drone interference – mitigating the possibility of damage and disruption in the process. 
    Learn how DAS has already enabled a proactive approach, all while adding to site security, for the UK’s leading stadium, Wembley Stadium, in our full case study. 

    Committed to creating safer spaces 

    Responsible for securing international sites across an array of industries against common drone risks, we’re dedicated to providing scalable solutions that provide advanced situational intelligence, protecting people and property in the process.  

    Drone detection tools like DAS that can function alongside new no-fly zones over UK prisons promise to be an effective deterrent to unsolicited drone flights – one that can be further bolstered with innovative drone detection tools. 

    Have you heard how we’ve already helped provide a proactive approach to drone detection? Read our latest case studies today to learn more.