PENSACOLA, Fla. — A package of contraband covered in grass clippings that was dropped by a drone at a Panhandle prison is one of the most recent examples of inmates using advanced technology to smuggle illegal items behind prison walls.
The News-Journal reports that authorities are investigating two confirmed drone drops at Florida prisons in the last 30 days. One of those drops was discovered at a Panhandle prison after correctional officers spotted the drone, which was delivering a cellphone and tobacco.
The Florida Department of Corrections declined to specify at which institution the drop happened and would only confirm it happened at a prison in the Northwest region of the state.
Officials say drones plague prisons across the nation, and most corrections departments are trying to keep up with new technology.
"We know that drones are a real issue," FDC spokeswoman Michelle Glady said, adding that aside from the two confirmed sightings, there have been several other suspected drone-related drops.
A drone incidents factsheet provided by the department says the drone was observed by a correctional officer, who saw it successfully deliver contraband inside of the prison.
The correctional officers immediately responded to the area where the drone was spotted and found the package, which contained a cellphone with accessories such as chargers, earbuds and a SIM card, and several grams of tobacco.
The package was covered with dead grass clipping in an apparent attempt to camouflage or conceal the package.
State Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said he was made aware of the drone issue during recent tours of area facilities.
"It’s really a high-tech operation and the fact they’re obviously coordinating with people outside to drop these items is scary," Broxson said.
Glady said drone usage is plaguing prisons across the nation, and most corrections departments are trying to keep up with new technology. The department foresees some issues in investigating drone smuggling operations because it can be difficult to determine contraband was dropped by a drone unless correctional officers spot the device in action, she said. Also, a drone operator does not need to be close by to work the device.
Glady said any drone-related contraband cases will be investigated by the department’s Office of the Inspector General and forwarded to the State Attorney’s Office.
"We’ve had two confirmed sightings this year, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but in years past, it was completely unheard of," she said.
State lawmakers proposed legislation at this year’s session that would have added prisons and county jails to the list of sites where drone usage is prohibited, but those bills did not pass.
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