Prisons are like small cities. What happens inside can affect the world outside. One big problem in prisons is contraband, or illegal items that are smuggled in. This problem doesn’t just make things harder inside the prison, it can also create problems in the rest of society, like the drug trade and crime.

Contraband has always been an issue in prisons, but it’s getting harder to control because of new technology. One big change is drones. These small, remote-controlled flying machines are being used to drop illegal items into prisons. Between 2015 and 2019, the Department of Justice reported 130 drone incidents in federal prisons, a number that is likely underreported due to the lack of a formal reporting policy until 2018. This makes it even harder to keep prisons safe and secure.

In this article, we’re going to talk about contraband in prisons, how drones are being used to smuggle things in, and what’s being done to stop it. We’ll also talk about Sentrycs, a company that’s working to stop drones from delivering contraband into prisons.

Traditional Methods of Contraband Delivery

Throughout history, prisons have been confronted with the daunting task of preventing the flow of contraband. Inmates and their connections outside the prison walls have utilized ingenious tactics to bypass security measures. Smuggling through visitors, mail, and corrupt staff members has been a common practice. These methods have had severe consequences, leading to violence, drug addiction, and compromised prison environments. Traditional approaches to tackling contraband delivery have often fallen short, necessitating innovative solutions for the evolving challenges.

For instance, despite efforts to curb contraband in Texas prisons, such as implementing stricter mail rules and halting visitation due to the pandemic, the problem persisted. According to an investigation by The Texas Tribune and The Marshall Project, drugs are still prevalent in these facilities, with staff members being the main source. The issue has reportedly worsened due to the pandemic, with officers largely stopping searches of each other at the front gate due to safety measures and staff shortages.

A list of some common methods used to smuggle contraband into prisons: 

  1. Through Visitors: Inmates’ friends or family may attempt to bring prohibited items into the prison during visitation times, either by passing them directly to the inmate or by hiding them in areas where the inmate can later retrieve them.
  2. Through Mail: Letters, packages, or other forms of mail may be used to transport contraband items. Smugglers often devise creative methods to hide these items within seemingly innocuous mail content.
  3. Corrupt Staff Members: Prison staff members can sometimes be bribed or coerced into smuggling contraband items into the prison.
  4. Inmate Transfers and Outside Appointments: Inmates returning from court appearances, medical appointments, or other events outside the prison walls may attempt to bring back contraband items.
  5. Drones: As technology advances, the use of drones to deliver contraband over prison walls has become a significant concern. Drones can deliver items directly into the prison yard or even to specific windows or other accessible points.
  6. Throw-Overs: This is a relatively low-tech method, where an accomplice outside the prison throws a package over the wall into the prison yard, typically at a prearranged time and location.
  7. Tunnels and Other Secret Passages: While less common and more risky, there have been instances of contraband being transported into prisons through underground tunnels or other hidden pathways.
  8. Work Release Programs: Inmates participating in work release programs, where they are allowed out of the prison to work in the community, may attempt to bring contraband back into the facility.

So how do prisons discover contraband smuggling? Here is a list covering the different methods used by global prisons:

  • K-9 Units: Specially trained dogs, often referred to as K-9 units, are used to detect drugs and other contraband. Their strong sense of smell allows them to find hidden contraband that human officers might miss.
  • Metal Detectors: Metal detectors are a basic but effective tool for discovering metallic objects, such as weapons or certain types of drug paraphernalia.
  • Perimeter Security: By monitoring and securing the prison’s outer boundaries, prisons can detect attempts to smuggle contraband via throw-overs, drones, or other methods.
  • In-Custody and Re-Entry Screening: All inmates are typically searched when they first arrive at the prison and also when returning from outside events, to prevent contraband from being brought into the facility.
  • X-Ray Body Scanners: These devices can detect objects hidden within a person’s body. This is particularly useful in identifying contraband that is not made of metal and would not be detected by a metal detector.
  • Phone-Blocking Technology: This technology is used to prevent the use of smuggled cell phones within the prison. By blocking unauthorized calls, prisons can disrupt communication between inmates and potential accomplices outside the prison.
  • Specially Trained Staff: Some prison staff members receive special training in recognizing and responding to signs of contraband smuggling. This may include learning about common smuggling methods, recognizing behaviors associated with smuggling, and knowing how to handle discovered contraband.
  • Randomized Checks: Regular and randomized checks of inmates’ personal belongings, cells, and common areas can help to deter and detect smuggling.
  • Anti-Drone Technologies: With the increasing use of drones to smuggle contraband, prisons are beginning to employ anti-drone technologies that can detect, track, neutralize drones in their airspace, and even locate the drone operator, outside of the prison’s perimeter.
  • Intelligence Gathering and Surveillance: Prisons often employ extensive surveillance systems, including cameras and microphones, to monitor the behavior of inmates and staff. Intelligence gathered from these systems, as well as from informants within the prison population, can be critical in identifying smuggling attempts.

The Rise of Drone Technology in Contraband Smuggling

“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master,” said Christian Lous Lange, the famous historian. This quote perfectly encapsulates the rise of drone technology in contraband smuggling. Drones, equipped with cameras, GPS navigation systems, and cargo compartments, have become the tools of choice for those seeking to smuggle illicit items. This emerging trend has captured the attention of authorities worldwide, who are grappling with the implications of this disruptive technology on prison security.

In South Carolina, as many as 20 people have been arrested for involvement in a scheme to deliver contraband to prisoners at the Lee Correctional Institution via drones. The deliveries included items such as candy, cash, drugs, phones, and weapons. The problem of contraband smuggling by drone has been a growing issue at prisons across the US and elsewhere, leading to the US Bureau of Prisons publicly seeking technology to detect and stop them.

Prison authorities are also fighting off an aerial invasion by drones being used to smuggle drugs and other contraband into Victorian jails while the system has been in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. The airdrops, containing packages of pharmaceutical-grade narcotics and street drugs such as heroin, have kept the jailhouse drug market alive after a ban on face-to-face visits during the pandemic cut off the most common supply route. Corrections Victoria received 97 security incident reports from prisons about remotely piloted vehicles from March to early November (2020), up 246 percent compared to the full year before COVID-19 struck. Prison authorities were caught ill-prepared to counter the high-tech threat and have scrambled to install drone detection equipment at five of the prisons considered most at risk.

Future-Proofing Prisons: The Role of Anti-Drone Solutions

To combat the increasing threat posed by drone-based contraband delivery, the adoption of anti-drone solutions is becoming imperative. These technologies leverage advanced detection and mitigation capabilities to neutralize drones and prevent their unauthorized entry into prison facilities. Anti-drone solutions can utilize a combination of radar systems, radio frequency (RF) detection, optical sensors, and protocol analysis to identify and track drones in real time, as well as locate the operator. Once detected, these systems can employ countermeasures such as jamming, spoofing,  capturing, and pairing to neutralize the drones and prevent the delivery of contraband.

By implementing anti-drone solutions, prisons can future-proof their security measures against the evolving landscape of contraband delivery. These solutions serve as a crucial layer of defense, complementing traditional security protocols and strengthening overall prison safety.

Anti-drone technologies provide prisons with enhanced situational awareness, enabling proactive measures to combat emerging threats. Real-time drone detection and tracking systems alert security personnel to potential drone activity, allowing for swift responses and interventions. It can also be deployed in an autonomous mode, which doesn’t require real-time human decision-making nor extensive personnel training. By gathering intelligence on drone flights, including flight paths and patterns, prisons can better understand the tactics employed by contraband smugglers, facilitating targeted enforcement efforts.

Sentrycs Solutions in Addressing Contraband Delivery

Prisons are more than just buildings; they’re complex environments where safety and security are paramount. Sentrycs is a leading company in the fight against drone smuggling. They’ve developed a system that can automatically detect drones, take control of them, and safely land them. This stops the drones from delivering contraband and helps keep prisons safe.

The Sentrycs system is designed to work flawlessly, even in dense urban environments, without any communication interruption. It boasts zero false alarms, ensuring that security personnel can focus on real threats without being distracted by false positives.

One of the standout features of the Sentrycs system is its ability to operate either manually or autonomously, providing flexibility based on the situation at hand. Moreover, it ensures no collateral damage, making it a safe and reliable solution for prison environments.

The system also has the ability to differentiate between friend and foe, allowing prisons to use their own drones without interference. This feature is particularly useful for prisons that use drones for surveillance or other security purposes.

In addition to its robust drone detection and mitigation capabilities, the Sentrycs system offers valuable data collection on drone activity, enabling prisons to understand when and where smuggling attempts are likely to occur and take proactive measures to prevent them. The system’s ability to locate drone operators is a crucial advantage, as it allows prisons to identify those responsible for breaching security. This knowledge empowers prisons to take appropriate action, hold individuals accountable for unauthorized drone activities, and make informed decisions about necessary adjustments in security procedures and resource allocation to mitigate future incidents effectively.

One of the great things about the Sentrycs system is that it can be added to a prison’s existing security setup. The Sentrycs team works closely with each prison to make sure the system meets their specific needs. This means that every prison can have a solution that’s right for them.

With Sentrycs, prisons have a powerful tool in the fight against contraband smuggling. It’s a combination of cutting-edge technology, expert support, and a commitment to keeping prisons safe and secure.


The landscape of contraband delivery in prisons is rapidly changing, driven by advances in technology. As demonstrated in this article, the rise of drones has posed a significant challenge to prison security. From traditional methods to high-tech approaches, the creativity and persistence of contraband smugglers persist, thus demanding equally innovative and effective countermeasures.

The growing number of drone incidents in prisons globally highlights the urgency of the issue. These unmanned aerial vehicles, though originally designed for commercial purposes, have been appropriated as tools for illicit activities, Making the ongoing issue of illegal items in prisons even worse.

However, as the problem evolves, so do the solutions. The advent of anti-drone technology, represented by companies like Sentrycs, provides a hopeful outlook on this issue. Sentrycs’ system, with its ability to detect and neutralize drones and distinguish between threats and friendly machines, presents an innovative and viable solution to this burgeoning problem. By integrating this technology with existing security measures, we can create a multi-layered defense system that is equipped to handle the evolving challenges posed by contraband delivery.

In conclusion, while drone technology has undeniably complicated the contraband issue in prisons, it is through technological advancements and innovative security solutions that we can address and potentially curb this growing threat. It’s a dynamic and ongoing battle, one that will undoubtedly continue to evolve as new technologies emerge. Therefore, continued vigilance, investment in innovative solutions, and cooperation between correctional facilities and technology companies will be vital to ensure the safety and security of our prisons.