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As criminals become ever more sophisticated at smuggling contraband into jails, prison authorities are stepping up measures to combat the threat.

The latest – and growing – problem is from drones, being used to fly drugs and other items such as mobile phones over perimeter fences and into prison grounds.

Two major initiatives are helping deter the drone threat: across the UK, the Ministry of Justice has formed a new squad to tackle drone threat to prisons; while the Les Nicolles prison on Guernsey has gone a step further and become the first in the world to use a ‘disruptor’ system to create drone-proof 'shield' around the jail.

Drone squad formed

The squad formed to tackle the threat drones pose to prison security will see a team of investigators work closely with national law enforcement agencies and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS).

They will inspect drones that have been recovered from prisons to identify and track down those involved in attempts to smuggle in contraband as part of a concerted effort to disrupt the flow of drugs and mobile phones into prisons.

Prison sentences for drone pilots

The move follows a number of recent convictions for smuggling contraband into prisons, where offenders have been given custodial sentences of 3-6 years for using drones to attempt to smuggle drugs such as cannabis, spice and heroin, as well as phones into different prisons, which will come as no surprise to those working in substance misuse jobs within the secure estate. 

The drone squad comes with prisons recording a sharp increase in incidents involving drones. Mandatory drug testing and the training of over 300 drug detection dogs to specifically detect psychoactive substances has been introduced. The Government has also made it a criminal offence to possess any psychoactive substance in a prison, an offence which is punishable by up to two years.

Guernsey jail installs drone shield

The fight to tackle drones flying in contraband has been taken to a new level with the creation of a 2,000ft (600m) shield around and above Les Nicolles prison that will detect and deflect the remote-controlled devices.

The system – part of a wider £1.7m security upgrade - uses sensors to jam the drone’s computer, block its frequency and control protocols, and bounce the drones back to where they came from. The Sky Fence systems sees around 20 ‘disruptors’ installed on the perimeter and inside.

Prisoner governor David Matthews said: “This is the first time this technology has been used in any prison anywhere in the world. I would like to see it adopted in other UK prisons because it has become a significant problem there. Drones can carry weapons, contraband, mobile phones and drugs. This is about prevention.”

Les Nicolles prison opened in 1989 and is a mixed category prison capable of holding 139 men, women and young offenders and is run by the State of Guernsey.

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