Drone incidents at Victorian prisons rise 250%

written by Adam Thorn | November 17, 2020
RMIT water drone (RMIT)

The number of drone ‘security incidents’ at Victoria’s prisons has risen by nearly 246 per cent in 2020, as inmates find more inventive ways to smuggle drugs in during lockdown.

A freedom of information request by The Age revealed there were 97 reports between March and early November comprising sightings, interceptions and suspected deliveries sourced from informers.

In response, the state government has invested $420,000 in drone detection and tracking equipment including five stationary devices and one mobile unit.

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The airdrops were said to contain packages of narcotics and street drugs such as heroin and the use of UAVs has exploded after a ban of face-to-face visits in March, which shut off more traditional supplies.

One incident report obtained by the newspaper shows authorities failed to detect a drone incursion made during the day.

“Review of CCTV footage shows a package appearing from the sky and drone within the sky. Prisoners can then be seen searching within the area, with one prisoner retrieving the package,” a report from July read.

Another smuggling attempt was rumbled weeks later, after a tip-off.

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“Information inside was that a drone had been used to drop heroin and buprenorphine off to prisoner [redacted] about three weeks ago … It was ascertained that a drug drop had been organised for March 19. CCTV was reviewed [redacted] … Management informed,” the files said.

Corrections Victoria said in response, “Some people go to great lengths to smuggle drugs and other contraband into the prison system, and with prison visits suspended due to coronavirus it was expected attempts to bring in banned items would increase.

“Thanks to our new drone detection program we were able to catch this illegal activity – stopping drugs and other contraband from getting into the hands of prisoners.”

It comes after Australian Aviation reported in July how NSW was seeing a similar increase in drones to smuggle drugs.

The state’s Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin said that since visits were cancelled his team have seen people increasingly using mail, drones and tennis balls in an attempt to smuggle drugs into prisons.

Severin made the claim after his officers intercepted an alleged aerial drop of $100,000 worth of ‘bupe’ into a maximum-security prison in the Hunter region.

Officials found a drone with a line of string connected to a package in a car near Cessnock Correctional Centre. The package allegedly contained 108 buprenorphine strips and 42 buprenorphine tablets, known as ‘bupe’.

The ABC said each strip or tablet of the drug has a prison value of roughly $1,000.

“The good work by our correctional centre staff in searching for and detecting contraband should send a clear message to these people that ‘we are alert and you will get caught’,” said Severin.

“Our officers are proactive and undertake daily contraband searches of inmates, cells and common areas, these searches also focus on inmate mail and prison perimeter fences.”

Last year, Queensland’s Deputy Commissioner similarly warned that anyone caught flying drones over the state’s prisons risked two years in jail and a $12,000 fine.

It followed an incident where an officer spotted a drone over an exercise yard of the Capricornia Correctional Centre on Christmas Day.

A prisoner was thought to have caught the package of contraband before it was confiscated the facility was put into lockdown.

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