A new Ministry of Justice (MoJ) squad has been launched in efforts to crack down on an alarming escalation in the number of drones smuggling drugs and mobile phones into UK prisons. Prisons minister Sam Gyimah has vowed to put people involved in drone drop-offs "behind bars".
The move comes on the heels of jails recording a surge in drone drop-offs, with some figures reportedly revealing that in 2015 alone, there were 33 incidents of drones detected over prisons in England and Wales, the Guardian reported. In comparison, just two such incidents were recorded in 2014, while 2013 has no record of any drone-related incident.
"The threat posed by drones is clear, but our dedicated staff are committed to winning the fight against those who are attempting to thwart progress by wreaking havoc in establishments all over the country," Gyimah said. "My message to those who involve themselves in this type of criminal activity is clear; we will find you and put you behind bars."
The MoJ said that the new unit will work in collaboration with law enforcement and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to examine drones recovered from jails, in an attempt to track down those orchestrating the smuggling in of contraband items. The special unit will include staff from the police and HMPPS.
The crackdown also aims to aid the government's efforts to tackle an increase in violence and self-harm in prisons by preventing the inflow of drugs and phones smuggled in.
The Guardian reported that drones are also becoming a major issue for the UK police, with complaints associated with drone-related incidents having increased substantially in the past few years. According to data gathered by freedom of information requests by the Press Association, drone-related complaints alleging burglary "scoping", which generally involves the use of drones to scope out a house to check whether its empty and has any valuable items, as well as dangerous mid-air near-miss accidents with aircraft, drastically increased to almost 3,500, almost 10 complaints a day, in 2016. The figures were almost three times higher than the total number of 1,237 incidents in 2015.
The MoJ said that its decision to set up a special unit follows the courts delivering the longest sentence to two individuals found smuggling contraband into prisons via a drone. A joint operation by police and prison officers led to the arrests of Remo White-Channer and Romaine Gayle, who were jailed for six years and six months and four years and four months respectively for attempting to smuggle in contraband worth £48,000 ($60,198) into prisons across Hertfordshire.
According to the MoJ, the duo, as part of a crime group used drones to fly in packages containing cannabis, spice and heroin, as well as phones into three different prisons. However, the MoJ said that the strong sentences handed down to the perpetrators send "a clear message that those found flying drones into prisons will face significant time behind bars".
The MoJ also said that the justice secretary has gained funding for 2,500 additional prison officers and plans to implement mandatory drug tests. Moreover, funding for the training of over 300 drug detecting dogs has also been secured. The justice secretary has also established a £3m intelligence hub to combat gang crime in prison.