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Banning drones from flying near Michigan prisons

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

Drones have many uses. But Michigan lawmakers want to discourage one in particular: delivering contraband to state prison inmates.

Across the country in recent months, people trying to smuggle all kinds of things into prisons have turned to drones. 

Last week, adrone carrying hacksaw blades, cigars and drugs got tangled up in a razor wire fence at an Oklahoma prison.     

Several people are facing charges in Maryland afterallegedly using a drone to slip drugs and pornography into a maximum security prison.

A fight broke out in an Ohio prison over the summer, after a drone dropped a package of tobacco, marijuana and heroin in the exercise yard.

“It presents a lot of challenges for us,” says Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. “It’s something we’ve spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how we’re going to combat that.”

Gautz says the department has stepped up training for how to spot and react to a drone flying near one of Michigan’s more than 30 state prison facilities.

But what state prison guards can do is limited. 

Gautz says shooting the drones out of the sky presents obvious issues, including raining down debris on prison property, which could be used as weapons. 

There is anti-drone technology. But Gautz says its reliability is questionable and its cost prohibitively expensive. 

The State House Criminal Justice committee is taking up legislation Tuesday that would land someone in prison if they try to fly a drone over one.

HB 4867 would prohibit the flying of an unmanned aerial vehicle within 1,500 feet of a Michigan prison, punishable by up to four years in prison. 

The legislation is still in the discussion phase. 

The Michigan State Police and the American Civil Liberties Union are among those taking part in the discussion.   

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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