After spending years fighting to keep drones from flying over prisons, South Carolinacorrections officials unveiled plans on Thursday to use the small unmanned aircraft to keep a remote eye on inmates, an effort they said is the first of its kind in the country.
Corrections Director Bryan Stirling showed reporters new drones that can be used to monitor a prison and the area outside, where contraband such as cellphones and drugs can be launched over walls. The agency has hired two pilots, both military veterans, who will travel among the state's 21 prisons and monitor them from 400 feet in the air using remote controls and video screens.
It's something Stirling said the state Corrections Department has already been doing for several months, at little additional cost to the cash-strapped agency. And, according to Stirling, South Carolina is the first state in the nation to use drones like this, with the director saying that officials with the Association of State Correctional Administrators have told him they weren't aware of it happening in other places.
The group didn't immediately respond to a message Thursday seeking more information about the effort.
Drones have been an issue at South Carolina prisons for some time, although it wasn't the agency using them. Use of the devices has increased as a way to deliver contraband to prisons across the U.S.
Several recent instances in South Carolina illustrate the problem. In May 2017, two men were arrested for trying to fly knives, marijuana and phones into a medium-security state prison. Another man is serving a 15-year sentence after officials found a crashed drone outside a maximum-security institution in 2014. Last summer, when an inmate escaped from a maximum-security prison, officials said he had used wire cutters possibly delivered by drone to cut his way through multiple fences.
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