Government crackdown on drone usage for smuggling drugs and items into prison
Government crackdown on drone usage for smuggling drugs and items into prison, In a significant move to enhance prison security, the UK government has introduced expansive ‘no-fly zones’ over all prisons in England and Wales. This initiative aims to combat the increasing use of drones for smuggling drugs, mobile phones, and weapons into prisons, which has been a growing concern for law enforcement and prison authorities.
New Airspace Restrictions
Under the new legislation, it is now an automatic offence to fly drones within 400 metres of any closed prison or young offender institution in England and Wales. This measure creates a virtual barrier, preventing unauthorized drone activities in the vicinity of these facilities. Drone operators violating these restrictions could face fines up to £2,500, and those caught smuggling illicit items risk imprisonment for up to ten years.
Rising Drone Incidents
The decision to implement these no-fly zones comes in response to a sharp increase in drone sightings at prisons in recent years. Previously, police action was limited to cases with evidence of contraband being smuggled. However, the new rules allow for more proactive measures, enabling police and prison staff to swiftly identify and intercept suspicious drones, thereby enhancing overall security.
Prisons Minister Damian Hinds emphasized the importance of these measures, stating that they are crucial in the ongoing efforts to prevent the entry of drugs, weapons, and phones into prisons. He highlighted that these new ‘no-fly’ zones, coupled with the introduction of airport-style X-ray scanners, will significantly improve the ability to clamp down on violence and maintain safety for both prisoners and staff.
Recent Drone-Related Incidents
Between 2019 and 2021, there were over 500 drone-related incidents around prisons in England and Wales. These incidents have led to more than 70 convictions since June 2016, with offenders serving a combined total of over 240 years in prison. One notable incident in May 2022 involved a drone attempting to deliver contraband worth over £35,000, including hundreds of tablets, cannabis, and multiple mobile phones.
Investment in Prison Security
This announcement follows a £100 million investment to bolster prison security, which includes the installation of 75 additional X-ray body scanners and enhanced gate security at high-risk prison sites. Routine searches of staff and visitors have also been implemented as part of these security upgrades.
Legal Framework and Implementation
The new restrictions, supported by the Department of Transport and Civil Aviation Authority, were made into law on 16 October 2023 and will take effect from 25 January 2024. They build on existing legislation, such as the Air Traffic and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021, which already grants police powers to intercept or seize drones suspected of illegal use.
This move represents a significant step in the UK’s efforts to modernize and strengthen prison security, addressing the evolving challenges posed by technological advancements in drone technology.