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Michigan prison staff on high alert after drone smuggling incidents

Giorgi's Photography

Officials with the Department of Corrections say prisons are on high alert after a drone successfully smuggled contraband into a prison in May. The incident was not publicly reported at the time and was recently discovered through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Detroit News.

Records show a drone made several trips to the Richard A. Handlon correctional facility in Ionia. Authorities caught and confiscated one of the packages the drone-delivered.

Chris Gautz is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He said prison officials detected one of the packages dropped by drone but missed at least one other.

“Sometime after that, an informant advised our staff that in fact there was more than just that package and at least one of them had landed within the perimeter of the facility. So we went back and reviewed videotape and found what appeared to be an object in the yard and we were able to see several prisoners pick up that package and take it back to their housing units.”

Gautz said when they searched the prisoners who appeared in the video they found no contraband.

“About a month after all of this took place we did discover two cell phones inside the facility. While it stands to reason those were may have been the phones we couldn’t definitively say that.”

Gautz said the May incident is the first time contraband was dropped within a Michigan prison, and he hopes it doesn’t become a normal occurrence.

“To those individuals who for some reason think it’s a good idea to try and introduce drugs or cell phones into a prison they need to know that this is a very serious crime, it’s a felony, and you could very easily find yourself behind bars in the same exact prison that you were trying to introduce drugs in.”

Gautz says the incident was not disclosed because the Corrections Department does not typically discuss contraband in prisons.

He said prisons across the state have been made aware of the new threat drones can pose for smuggling in contraband.