Legislation passed unanimously last month by the General Assembly makes it a crime to operate drones near North Carolina’s prisons or jails.
House Bill 128 creates multiple criminal offenses for a person using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) within 500 feet of local confinement facilities or State or federal correctional facilities (and within 250 feet vertically). These state penalties are imposed in addition to federal regulation of drones.
The bill creates three new criminal penalties for drone use at jails and prisons:
- Class H Felony: for using the drone to deliver a weapon;
- Class I Felony: for using the drone to deliver contraband such as controlled substances, cigarettes, and alcohol; and
- Class 1 Misdemeanor: for using the drone for any other purpose.
The bill also defines the procedure for confiscation and release of drones used in committing violations. The money from the sale of a seized drone would be paid into the school fund in accordance with the state constitution: Article IX, Section 7: County School Fund; State Fund For Certain Moneys.
The bill does make a few exceptions for the use of drones for those with written consent, for law enforcement and first responders, and for public utilities inspections.
The implementation of this new law, set for December 1, 2017, will help to discourage those who would attempt to help prison inmates escape, as happened earlier this month in South Carolina.
Like an updated scene from the film Escape From Alcatraz, convicted felon Jimmy Causey escaped from a maximum-security prison by using a cell phone to fly in a drone to drop off a pair of wire cutters, tricking the guards into thinking he was fast asleep using a homemade dummy. Guards didn’t realize he was gone until after lunch the following day.
Charlotte’s WSOCTV Channel 9 reports that as drones become more accessible, more and more smugglers are using drones to sneak contraband to prison inmates. According to Reporter Jason Stoogenke, cellphones, cigarettes, marijuana, and weapons are the most common contraband deliveries; he goes on to explain how a typical drone smuggling operation works. From his February 16 story:
- Drone operator smuggles a cellphone into the prison for an inmate early on
- Other prisoners then place their orders with that inmate, and he passes them on to the drone operator
- The inmates ask their loved ones outside the prison to pay the drone operator, some even use PayPal
- The inmate gets a commission, usually 10 percent
- The drone operator collects the items for the inmates
- The inmate tells the drone operator when and where to drop the items so the guards and cameras don’t see
- The drone operator hides near the prison, flies the drone and makes the delivery
- The drone operator even labels the packages so the inmate can distribute them quickly, without having to open them first
HB128 was signed into law by the governor earlier this afternoon.