Canadian Security Magazine

Correctional service says it’s tackling ‘evolving threat’ posed by drone smugglers

The Canadian Press   

News Canada correctional services drones smuggling

The Correctional Service of Canada says it's taking multiple steps to combat the "evolving threat" of drones dropping contraband into prisons, after B.C. prison guards held a rally to call attention to increasing violence in correctional facilities. Patches are seen on the arm and shoulder of a corrections officer in the segregation unit at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Correctional Service of Canada says it’s taking multiple steps to combat the “evolving threat” of drones that drop contraband into prisons, after B.C. guards held a rally to call attention to violence that they say is fuelled by the smuggling.

The correctional service said in a statement Thursday that it’s using a “layered approach” to respond to the smugglers by procuring drone detection equipment and piloting a program using cellphone detection technology.

Other measures include using body scanners, dogs trained to find electronic devices, and “infrastructure enhancements” at prison facilities, the service said.

Corrections officials said they’re confident that the measures coupled with efforts of front-line prison staff will help curb contraband smuggled into prisons.

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The correctional service says it currently lacks “legal authority” to use drone-jamming technology, but is exploring both the “legal processes and feasibility” of eventually using the tech.

The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers held a protest in Abbotsford, B.C., on Thursday to highlight what it says is a wave of violence driven by drone drops of drugs and weapons, with violent incidents in the 2022-23 fiscal year up 45 per cent from a year earlier.

John Randle, a regional president with the union, said Wednesday that a variety of anti-drone technology is “readily available,” but has yet to make it into the country’s prisons, where drones dropping contraband have contributed to the deteriorating situation “almost on a daily basis.”

Randle said he recently attended a trade show for drone technology, where he saw radar detection systems, futuristic-looking rifles that fire pulses to disable drones, and tech that allows guards to take control of drones mid-air if they enter prison airspace.

Canada’s prison watchdog has also suggested that prisons employ new technology in the battle against drone smugglers.

In his 2021/2022 report, correctional investigator Ivan Zinger wrote that implementing “more sophisticated drone detection systems will assist in reducing the presence of drugs within correctional facilities.”

Zinger’s report said there was a “recent and dramatic upsurge” in inmates failing drug tests, indicating “the insatiable demand for drugs behind bars.”

Prisons elsewhere in the world have been dealing with drone smuggling for years, and the U.K. government announced a new law in January prohibiting drones from flying within 400 metres of prisons.

Research published by the U.S. National Institute of Justice in 2022 said evolving drone technology posed a “real threat to correctional facilities.”

“Despite innovations and sound correctional practices, novel and inventive methods are constantly being developed and employed by persons who are incarcerated and conspirators to smuggle contraband,” a technology brief published by the institute said.

Technology to combat drones, it said, “is rapidly evolving as companies develop new products to serve expanding defence and security applications, including correctional institutions. However, many technologies are military-focused and therefore do not meet the operational needs of corrections.”

Companies developing anti-drone tech include Drone Defence, based in the U.K., which makes a “SkyFence” that disrupts drone navigation systems if they enter protected airspace.

Droneshield, which has operations in the U.S. and Australia, markets a number of “counter-drone” products, including disabling rifles, radar systems and hand-held detection devices.

But not all smugglers have gone high-tech.

Early last year, Randle highlighted two incidents of carrier pigeons fitted with tiny backpacks filled with drugs that were found at Matsqui prison and Pacific Institution in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.

By Darryl Greer in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2024.


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