By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
A bill to prohibit flying drones over penal institutions soared through the Wyoming Senate on Monday.
In testimony with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Daniel Shannon said there had only been two incidents in Wyoming involving drones and prisons, and in both cases it involved the delivery of tobacco.
However, other institutions in the United States have had weapons and drugs delivered by drone.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Shannon told the committee. “Throughout our nation … institutions are having more and more episodes.”
Shannon said it’s also a concern that drones are used to spy on prisons to identify guards, inmates, and more specific details, such as door numbers.
After unanimous approval from the committee Friday, Senate File 32 also passed a full vote on the Senate floor, sending the legislation to the state House.
Fines And Prison
The bill, if it passes the full Legislature, will make it illegal for anyone except law enforcement or others authorized, to photograph or video a correctional facility using an unmanned aircraft.
It would also make it illegal to deliver contraband, such as tobacco or drugs, anyone confined in a prison.
Violations would carry a $2,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
Using a drone to deliver a deadly weapon into a prison would result in a penalty of up to $10,000 and up to 10 years in prison.
SF 32 also would allow the department to take “reasonable actions” against drones trespassing over a prison facility, although Shannon said WDC doesn’t “have an interest in shooting down drones.”
What About Slingshots?
While the bill was written with drones in mind, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, asked if it also would address other activities that already are illegal under other Wyoming laws.
“So if I have a big ol’ slingshot … that would obviously be illegal too, already?” Case asked about using that method to deliver contraband.
Shannon agreed that would be illegal, but said the range of drones is long enough to go farther than a slingshot. In many cases, people can’t get close enough to throw or slingshot items over prison walls.
Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, said members of the media had raised concerns SF 32 would limit their ability to conduct news coverage at a prison facility.
Shannon said journalists could receive permission from the Department of Corrections prior to the flight. He said he also has offered members of the media tours of Wyoming facilities.
If it’s legal to fly a drone over a prison anytime, Shannon explained, prison staff and inmates have to be secured when they’re spotted.
“That would be very disruptive,” he said.
If the bill passes the full Legislature, it will go into effect immediately.