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Drugs, weapons 'smuggled to prisoners by drone'

Image source, South Carolina Department of Corrections

The Shawshank Redemption it isn’t.

Prisoners at the Lee Correctional Institution need not know an Ellis Redding – the prison contraband smuggler of Stephen King’s novel – inmates can simply get drugs, candy and weapons delivered to the Bishopville, South Carolina facility by drone.

But now as many as 20 people have been arrested for involvement in the scheme.

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The latest came on Sunday, when five were caught attempting to fly drones into the site.

Contraband smuggling by drone has been a growing problem at prisons across the US and elsewhere.

In 2015, the US Bureau of Prisons publically sought technology to detect and stop them, while in 2017, the UK government formed a specialist squadron to “tackle drone threat to prisons“.

The US Justice department has brought federal charges to drone smugglers, most recently this week.

The problem has especially plagued South Carolina, where intrusions happen every week, according to the state corrections department head.

The night-time deliveries at Lee Corrections Institution have included candy, cash, drugs, phones and weapons.

Investigations into the unlawful postal service have kept police officers in tiny Lee County busy for the past eight months.

Nearly two dozen people have now been arrested and charged on various counts, including contraband, criminal conspiracy and the possession of illegal drugs.

Twelve drones have been seized so far, including two during the latest arrest. Sheriff Daniel Simon said they were among the largest he’s ever seen, meaning they could carry heavier packages.

“Our main focus is to stop contraband from entering the institution, and especially prevent someone from getting injured in the process,” he said.

Violence over contraband is a real risk. A 2018 riot at the Lee prison left seven inmates dead. In another incident, in 2010, a gang member at the site used a smuggled cell phone to order a hit against the head of the Contraband Unit, who was later shot six times at his home.

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