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Growing concern over drone drops at Michigan prisons

IONIA, Mich. -- There's a growing concern in Michigan's prisons about drones.  The devices are being used to drop things like weapons into prison yards.

"Drones operating in or near prisons creates a lot of unrest," said Brent Kowitz with the Michigan Corrections Organization.

Drones serve many purposes and are becoming increasingly popular.  But now, a useful technology is being used for illegal activity.

"Our major concern is the introduction of contraband moving into the facilities," Kowitz said.

Items like drugs, cell phones and weapons are being dropped from the sky into prison yards around the US, putting inmates and unarmed corrections officers at risk.

The Michigan Corrections Organization says there have been five confirmed drones hovering over Michigan prisons since May, with more than one confirmed contraband drop. An incident in Ionia led to three arrests.

"Normally throughout the year we've been positioned to look straight ahead or forward, side to side. Now... there's a new element in play. We have to be looking for things from the sky," Kowitz said.

To keep up with the times, MCO took its concerns to the Governor's task force concerning unmanned aircraft.  They're hoping viable solutions can come out of the work group to relieve a growing concern nationwide.

Just this summer, authorities in South Carolina say an inmate escaped after a drone dropped wire cutters into the prison yard.

"We will do everything within our power to work with the law enforcement agencies, the prosecutors and the judges to make sure that those individuals end up inside the prison in prison blues because this is a very serious issue and we want people to understand that it is a felony," said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz.

Gautz says drones have become an increasing concern over the past two to three years.

He says while drone detection technology exists, people with ill intent may find a way around it by the time MDOC gets the funding from the legislature to implement such a system.  Another bureaucratic challenge: air space is regulated at the federal level, not in Lansing.

The Governor's task force is looking into solutions for drones over prisons and is expected to present its findings Nov. 20.

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