Prison smuggling drone use – up by 1550%

jaildroneDrones are being used to smuggle drugs, mobile phones and other banned items into prisons, it can be revealed.

Figures obtained through a Press Association Freedom of Information (FoI) request show that in 2013 none of the unmanned crafts were discovered in or around prisons in England and Wales.

But in 2014 this rose to two incidents, rocketing to 33 in 2015 – an increase of 1,550%.

Items discovered include just the drones themselves, drugs, mobile phones and chargers, and USB drives.

Mike Rolfe, national chairman elect of the Prison Officers Association (POA), said: “The use of drones to smuggle traditional drugs, NPS (legal highs) and mobiles phones into prisons is of serious concern to the POA.

“The POA have long pushed for increased staffing resource to tackle the security issue that drones present. The additional resource should be used to increase operational staffing within establishments, allowing for the recovery of parcels delivered to prisoners by drones through cell checks and prisoner searches.

“This includes pressing NOMS (National Offender Management Service) for measures to tackle drones such as ground patrols and secure windows on cells.

“The use of illicit mobiles phones allows for increased criminal activity and distress to victims and their families.

“The trafficking of illegal drugs and legal highs hampers rehabilitation breeding violence, bullying and gang culture. All of these issues are on the increase with the use of drones supporting this criminality.”

Prisons most affected by drone incidents between 2014 and 2015 were HMP Onley in Northamptonshire, topping the list with four, followed by Lindholme, Ranby and Swansea on three, and Bedford, Wandsworth and Manchester clocking two each.

Her Majesty’s prisons recording one occurrence include Leicester, The Mount, Whatton, Leeds, Eastwood Park, Liverpool, Norwich, Glen Parva, Huntercombe, Wormwood Scrubs, Full Sutton, Guys Marsh, Long Lartin, Bullingdon, Wealstun and Oakwood.

The Ministry of Justice said: “Incidents involving drones are rare, but we remain constantly vigilant to all new threats to prison security.

“We have introduced new legislation to further strengthen our powers, making it illegal to land a drone in prison or to use a drone to drop in psychoactive substances.

“Anyone found using drones in an attempt to get contraband into prisons can be punished with a sentence of up to two years.

“We take a zero tolerance approach to illicit material in prisons and work closely with the police and CPS to ensure those caught are prosecuted and face extra time behind bars.”

A report published in December by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons noted that illegal drugs, NPS and illicit medications may get into prisons in a number of ways – meaning it is not always possible to quantify exactly how many drugs are making it into prisons.

With supply routes differing from prison to prison, drugs have been discovered being thrown over fences in tennis balls, in large packages fired by catapults and being dropped by drones.

The report states that “easy access to illicit mobile telephones makes it possible to plan the drops carefully”.

Figures revealed by the FoI show that across the incidents at English prisons, drugs were discovered on at least six occasions, mobile phones more than nine times and a drone itself recovered in 19 instances.

One of the biggest finds listed a drone, drugs, mobile phone, a charger and USB cards being discovered in December last year at HMP Oakwood.

Below is a list of the number of times drones were discovered in and around English prisons over a three-year period, as well as a breakdown of the cargo the craft were carrying.

The freedom of information request sent to the Ministry of Justice reveals there was no drone activity reported in 2013, only two instances in 2014 and more than 33 in 2015.

Items discovered in or around the prison range from mobile phones and chargers to drugs and USB flash drives – other incidents have been recorded as either “unknown packages” or “miscellaneous”.

In their response, the Ministry of Justice states that “unknown packages” refers to an item which has been recovered as part of a suspected drone incident – with no specific information recorded on the contents.

And where “miscellaneous” has been recorded, this refers to a reported drone sighting in or around a prison. The MoJ states that where an incident has been listed as this or as drone only, they cannot know if the craft was being used for illegal purposes.

Here is a breakdown of drone incidents between 2013 and 2015, the location and items recovered.

:: April 2014

Ranby HMP – Mobile phones

:: June 2014

Ranby HMP – Drone, mobile phones

:: February 2015

Onley HMP – Unknown package

:: March 2015

Onley HMP – Unknown package

Onley HMP – Miscellaneous

Bedford HMP – Drone, unknown package

:: April 2015

Ranby HMP – Drone, drugs, mobile phones

Leicester HMP – Miscellaneous

:: May 2015

Lindholme HMP – Miscellaneous

:: June 2015

The Mount HMP – Drone, drugs

Swansea HMP – Drone, mobile phones

:: July 2015

Whatton HMP – Drone

Leeds HMP – Drone

:: August 2015

Eastwood Park HMP – Miscellaneous

Liverpool HMP – Drone

Norwich HMP and YOI – Drone

:: September 2015

Onley HMP – Drone and drugs

Glen Parva HMPYOI and RC – Miscellaneous

Lindholme HMP – Miscellaneous

:: October 2015

Lindholme HMP – Drone

Wandsworth HMP – Drone, unknown package

Wandsworth HMP – Miscellaneous

Swansea HMP – Miscellaneous

Bedford HMP – Drone, unknown package

Huntercombe HMP – Miscellaneous

Manchester HMP – Miscellaneous

Wormwood Scrubs HMP – Drone, drugs, mobile phones

Full Sutton HMP – Miscellaneous

:: November 2015

Swansea HMP – Miscellaneous

Manchester HMP – Drone, mobile phones

Guys Marsh HMP – Miscellaneous

Long Lartin HMP – Miscellaneous

:: December 2015

Bullingdon HMP – Drone, drugs, mobile phones

Wealstun HMP – Drone

Oakwood – Drone, drugs, mobile phone, charger, USB cards