State invests $35k in pilot program to keep unwanted drones out of prisons

FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2011 file photo, correctional officers keep watch on inmates in the recreation yard at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The state of California this month kicked off a $35,000 pilot program it hopes will keep drones from dropping drugs, weapons and other contraband into state prisons.

There have been 45 "unauthorized drone intrusions" since July 2017, when the state began keeping track. Nine of them happened at prisons in Kern County, according to state data obtained by Eyewitness News through public record requests.

Kern Valley State Prison, in Delano, was visited six times.

Authorities report drones have played a role in introducing a wide variety of contraband, from methamphetamine to hair dye, weapons and hand tools.

In response to the growing threat, the state put together a task force, the "Unmanned Aerial Systems Unit."

Comprised of mostly IT personnel, the group is charged with studying the problem and presenting plans to protect the prisons.

In a "request for quotation" the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sought bids from the technology community for products that could "provide the ability to detect unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) conducting flight operations over the target institution."

The list of mandatory components in the system were geared primarily toward surveillance. The state's desired vendor will provide a system which allows prison staff "to set alarms or email notifications upon detection of an UAV within the boundaries of the institution."

In a separate list of "desirable" attributes, the state would like a way to "detect UAV's remote pilots conducting flight operations," which would likely be somewhere outside the fenced area.

For security reasons, the state is not disclosing the prison sites where the pilot program has begun.

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