Drones have been flying over Wyoming prisons in attempt to drop contraband to inmates, the director of the state Corrections Department told a legislative committee Monday.
Dan Shannon told members of the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee drones have been flown over the state’s minimum security prisons and dropping tobacco products to inmates.
“We do have issues with drones,” Shannon said as the committee began studying the issue of trespass by drones.
The committee is developing legislation to make drone surveillance and object delivery over prisons punishable by misdemeanors — or felonies, depending on circumstances.
The committee is also examining ways to define drones in the state’s criminal code and draft a bill that would make drone trespass and surveillance over private property a crime punishable by law.
All bill concepts are still in their infancy.
Shannon, who said drones dropping tobacco products over minimum security facilities has been a problem, also said corrections staff in other areas conduct a daily rooftop check over prison facilities with their own drones.
Shannon noted in a later interview that tobacco, which was outlawed from the state’s prisons in 2007, is so valuable, it’s a form of currency in WDOC institutions.
Because it’s outlawed, tobacco is considered contraband. Guns, communication devices, drugs, alcohol, and tools to escape also are considered contraband under the law.
The use of drones either for good or ill is a “two-way street,” Shannon told the committee.
He said that law enforcement agencies have been willing to help stop the illicit fly-overs, but added state law is limited and does not allow prison staff to “stop” a drone.
“I certainly would like to have the authority to stop that drone, especially if there’s a weapon or narcotics attached to it,” said Shannon. “I consider (the drone) a threat.”
“As much as I like the idea of shooting drones, I like the idea of a drone battle, maybe we should authorize that” in statute, quipped Joint Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jared Olsen, R-Cheyenne.
State Rep. Art Washut, R-Casper, made a motion to craft a bill addressing drone flights over prisons.
State Rep. Ember Oakley, R-Riverton, asked the Legislative Service Office to include language in the draft bill that would allow prison staff to “capture or disable the drone by whatever means necessary.”
“It’s pretty strong, but policy-wise I would put that forward,” Oakley added.
The committee approved the direction, as well as a provision brought by Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, matching penalties for the delivery of contraband by drones to other laws against importing contraband into prisons.
For example, smuggling a firearm into a prison on one’s person can be a 10-year felony; the punishment for gun-dropping by drone would match that penalty under the bill now being contemplated by the committee.
Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, emphasized that photographing or otherwise studying prison occupants or procedures by drone should be illegal under the bill as well.