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Can You Fly a Drone Over a Prison? (ANSWERED)

Updated in 2022 by Paul Posea
Flying a Drone Over a Prison

If you find yourself near a prison facility, with your fully charged drone in your backpack, you might feel the itch to take it for a flight. I don’t blame you, we all want to use our drones for those little makeshift recon missions. It’s fun.

But, can you legally fly over a prison? You might’ve already guessed but the short answer is NO.

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) prohibits the use of drones near or over prisons. That’s because drones can be used to deliver drugs, weapons, or any other contraband to the inmates. This law was put in place when several inmates started receiving drone deliveries to prison.

In this article we’ll go over why you shouldn’t fly your drone near prisons, and what’ll happen if you get caught doing it.

Why is Flying a Drone Over a Prison Illegal?

Let’s have a little story time. In July 2015, a fight broke out at an Ohio prison when a drone dropped tobacco, marijuana and heroin to an inmate. 

This wasn’t a one time occurrence. Drones were starting to become delivery tools for gangs to sell their drugs in prisons all over the U.S, so it didn’t take long for the FAA to respond.

In June 2018, the FAA issued a ban on drones near prison facilities and coast guard bases. Most of the FAA flight restrictions took effect June 20 over 18 prisons and 10 Coast Guard facilities. Another prison near Clinton, Ill., took place later on July 7.

At first, the prison locations where the FAA adopted this drone ban are federal penitentiaries near Tucson, Arizona; Victorville, California; two near Florence, Colorado; two near Sumterville, Florida; Marion and Clinton, Illinois; Terre Haute, Indiana; Inez and Pine Knot, Kentucky; Pollock, Louisiana; Yazoo City, Mississippi; Allentown, Lewisburg and Waymart, Pennsylvania; Beaumont, Texas; Pennington Gap, Virginia; and Bruceton Mills, West Virginia.

The ban was simple, no drone was allowed 400 feet near a prison facility. Your reasons don't matter one bit, if they find you flying a drone, you’ll be at risk of facing criminal charges and prison time.

To give you an idea just how dangerous drones can be in prison and in the wrong hands. Back in 2017, a prisoner escaped from a south carolina prison using a wire cutter which he received via a drone drop. Luckily he was caught 1200 miles in the state of Texas!

What’ll Happen if You Fly a Drone Over a Prison Facility?

As I stated, flying your drone near a prison facility is strictly illegal. In the words of the FAA themselves: “This is the first time the agency has placed specific flight restrictions for unmanned aircraft, or drones, over Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Coast Guard facilities,.... [Drone] operators who violate the flight restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties and criminal charges, including up to a year in prison…”.

Any drone pilot who flies their drone over a prison can be charged with anything, from a class A misdemeanor to a class D felony.

The reason for the severity of these charges is due to the intention. If you’re flying your drone there unknowingly then all you’ll get is a misdemeanor offense. Meaning you’ll only be getting a proverbial slap on the wrist.

If however you’re flying there with the intention of dropping drugs, weapons, or anything else really to inmates, then you’re getting a felony. In the worst case scenario, you might even get up to a year of prison time.

How Do Prisons Detect Drones?

That’s a good question. If prisons upped their security and are on the lookout for drones, then how do they detect these drones in the first place? (especially at night).

Prisons are detecting drones by using anti-drone technology that’s being developed by trusted security companies that work with the public sector. These prisons also use techniques like Radio Frequency detection to detect drones, though that’s a bit outdated.

The Radio Frequency method uses radar to detect the radio frequencies transmitted by a drone’s controller. That way they can detect drones early. It’s not that practical though as you don’t know exactly where the pilot or the drone are, you just know that they’re there.

How do Prisons Stop Drones When They Detect Them?

Detecting drones is one thing, but how do prison guards stop these drones? It’s almost always done by going directly to the drone pilot and trying to find them, because shooting a drone with firearms isn’t allowed, unless strictly needed.

Prisons rely on specifically made drones or signal jammers to disrupt drones or cause them to crash. The technology they rely on is usually supplied by private security companies and is manufactured on demand.

Sky Fence System

This is a jamming system designed specifically for prisons (and other facilities). It disrupts a drone’s signal and either makes it very hard for the pilot to fly it, or causes the drone to crash directly.

In the words of the company behind it: “SkyFence uses multiple low-powered radio transmitters which are strategically placed around the protected site. When activated, they transmit a signal which is designed to overwhelm the drone’s radio transmissions. This breaks the control and video link between the drone and its operator.”.

DroneCatcher

This is an actual drone designed by Delft Dynamics, a dutch drone company. It has many sensors that make it locate drones and lock in on them. 

This drone didn’t get its name for no reason. It literally catches rogue drones by launching a net at them… sort of like a drone cowboy.

DroneGun

This is a bit overkill for prisons as it has military applications as well, but it’s used by some prisons. It’s designed by the australian company Droneshield and is a rifle shaped frequency jammer.

Work by locking in on a target (drone) and jamming its signal. Making the drone either land smoothly or crash, depending on the jamming. What’s amazing about it is that it has a range of 2.5km.

That’s right, with it a prison guard can crash your drone from over 2.5km away!

Conclusion

If there is one thing I want you to get from this article, it’s “DON’T FLY OVER PRISONS!”. 

In some cases you can get permission from the warden and you can fly, but even then it’s a risk. If something were to happen, know that fingers will get pointed at you even if you had permission.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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